Lead Smelting Safety

Lead smelting, which involves the heating of metallic components in a furnace, releases hazardous lead fume emissions into the surrounding environment, subjecting workers to lead exposure.  

Smelting requires the use of a smelting furnace to generate sufficient quantities of heat. Blast furnaces used in secondary smelting plants (i.e., plants that produce alloys from refined metals, and which recover nonferrous metals from scrap) produce metals that include iron, lead, and copper. 

Employers must ensure blast furnaces are operated safely, and that employees are provided with and use personal protective equipment to minimize employee lead exposure.

Blast Furnace Safety

Blast furnaces are designed and operated to produce a hard (high alloy content) lead product. These furnaces, in which fuel and material are mixed in a single chamber, emit high levels of lead fume as they operate. Spillage or emission can occur during lead or slag pouring. In addition, lead fume and dust can be emitted from the blast furnace if its charge level is too low.

Hazardous exposures can occur during blast furnace processes, including charging, tapping, and tuyere punching.

Charging Hazards & Control Measures

In blast furnaces, pretreated scrap metal, rerun slag, scrap iron, coke, recycled dross, and limestone are used as charge materials to the furnace. The heat needed to melt the lead is produced by the reaction of the charged coke with blast air that is blown into the furnace. Some of the coke combusts to melt the charge, while the remainder reduces lead oxides to elemental lead. 

During charging, lead fumes to which employees may become exposed are emitted as follows:
  • Lead spillage or emissions may occur at blast furnace feed conveyor transfer points and charging points.

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