According to MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) rosin core solder fumes are hazardous. Solder is composed of an amalgam of lead and tin, and sometimes small quantities of antimony. The residual lead content found in solder smoke is negligible, and the most immediate concern with solder smoke comes from breathing the flux fumes. For many people prolonged exposure to solder smoke and fumes may cause headaches, nausea, eye irritation or occasional coughing. For an unlucky few, chronic bronchitis and occupational asthma can be the outcome. It’s estimated that approximately one out of five unprotected industry workers will suffer this fate.
One of our team members brought up concerns regarding potential hazards he could be exposed to. We asked Sentry Insurance, our insurance career, to contact Rick Control Department to do air testing for these metals at our location. Within a week we had an inspection scheduled and performed by Rudy Cuevas, safety consultant at Sentry Insurance.
This is his response:
The thing that is important to note is that these metals by themselves have melting temperatures of 621 degrees F for lead, 450F for tin and 1,167F for antimony. When mixed in the solder amalgam, the melting temperature is about 365F. At this temperature the vapor pressures of these metals are too low to produce any vapors. In 25 year of air testing, even at wave soldering operations, we have never found airborne exposures to metals above exposure limits (or even close to the limits). The observable fumes that are produced from soldering are from the flux and rosin required to react with oxides and films on the base metal for good solder adhesion. These fumes are complex mixtures of organic and inorganic acids, halides, amines, alcohols and other compounds. The only thing that can really be sampled is rosin core pyrolysis products measured as formaldehyde. That being said, we do not typically test for this.
The hoods and fume collectors you show are typically used. The critical thing for the workers is to move the hood over the soldering point as close as possible. The capture efficiency drops of drastically as the distance from the source to the hood is increased.
Based on this information, a formal air quality assessment would not be needed. As stated above, I would recommend that each soldering work station is equipped with a fume collector/ventilation system and that supervisors ensure that employees are using the hoods and keeping them as close to soldering point as possible. This will increase the effectiveness of the hood and significantly reduce any nuisance odors or fumes.