Metal (& metalloid) dusts and fumes are a broad category of compounds. Metal dusts are small particulates of metals. When monitoring for metal dusts, occupational exposure monitoring would be for the total fraction, the inhalable fraction or the respirable fraction.

Metal fumes are made when a metal is heated, then volatilized, and finally condenses in air. With metal fumes, the size fraction is predominantly respirable.

Although the category includes metalloids (elements that have a mixture of metal and nonmetal properties; such as arsenic), it is typically just called metal dusts and fumes. Each metal has different properties, and the size of the particles in the dust or fume will determine where the particles deposit in the respiratory tract. In many occupational settings, workers are exposed to multiple metals at the same time. For instance, nickel mining not only involves exposures to nickel, but also: copper, cobalt, gold, silver, among others. Another example is welding, which will always result in a complex mixture of metal fumes that may include beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, zinc oxide, among others.

Although many metal species target the same organs, each metal species has a distinct toxicity profile and has its own OEL. For example, long-term exposure to nickel compounds increases risks for chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. An acute exposure to zinc oxides present in metal fumes are often associated with metal fume fever, which causes flu-like symptoms like chills, fever, and nausea.


Mining Exposures and Health

Bladder Cancer and Exposures in Ontario Mines

Welding Fumes Fact Sheet

Kidney Cancer and Exposures in Ontario Mines

Respiratory Hazards in Welding Fumes and Other Exposures

Lung Cancer and Gold Mining

Sarcoidosis Among Workers in the Mining Sector

McIntyre Powder Project (MPP) link

Welding - Fumes and Gases Fact Sheets (CCOHS (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety))

Lung Cancer Resources (OCRC (Occupational Cancer Research Centre))

Welding and Welding Fumes (OCRC (Occupational Cancer Research Centre) and Carex)

Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario (Cancer Care Ontario)

OEL Tool (OHCOW Tool link)