Health & Safety
The Mission of the Health and Safety Advisory Committee is to monitor
all health and safety issues for the Association and to determine when
further issue specific action is needed.
Aluminum Safety Hazards
Injury and illness statistics gathered by the Aluminum
Association indicate that aluminum plants are relatively safe,
workplaces. However, virtually every industry has its potential hazards
depending upon the processes and/or products involved. The aluminum
industry is no exception.
Millions of pounds of aluminum are melted and cast safely everyday in
cast shops, foundries, recycling and reclamation plants all over the
world. However there are inherent hazards in handling molten aluminum,
just as there are inherent hazards in virtually every activity. These
hazards can be minimized or eliminated by careful attention to safe
Failure to use proper procedures in melting and casting
aluminum can be dangerous. Contact with molten aluminum can burn
personnel or set materials on fire. Mixing water and many chemical
substances or contaminants with molten aluminum can cause explosions.
These explosions range widely in violence and can result in injury or
death as well as destruction of equipment and plant facilities.
Molten Aluminum is typically handled at 1300-1450 degrees Fahrenheit
to avoid premature solidification. Molten aluminum contacting any part
of the human body can cause serious burns. If extensive, these burns can
be fatal. Where there is possibility of splash or other direct exposure,
personnel working with molten aluminum wear eye and face protection and
Aluminum Sow Casting and Charging
Bulk aluminum intended for re-melting is often cast in the form
of large shapes, weighing 700 to 2000 pounds, commonly known as sows.
The sow-casting process generally results in unavoidable internal
shrinkage cavities, which can become reservoirs for collecting large
amounts of water. Sows are also subject to surface moisture and other
contaminants. The introduction of water into molten aluminum can result
in an explosion ranging from a small to very violent event causing
extensive equipment damage and endangering human life. Therefore,
operations must make every effort to avoid charging sows that contain
moisture, either entrapped or surface, into molten aluminum.
Surface contaminants such as oxidizing agents, hygroscopic salts, rust,
and metallic oxides can create explosions. The Aluminum Association
discourages the practice of drying sows by placement on furnace sills
that contain molten aluminum. Explosions may occur from sows slipping
into molten baths before fully dry or from water condensing between
stacks of sows.
Aluminum Scrap Re-melting
Explosions may result from the aluminum scrap re-melting
process due to moisture and contamination in scrap. Contaminants such as
water, nitrates, oxidizers, radioactive materials, polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), hypodermic needles, fertilizers, unknown residues and
toxic substances can cause explosions, endangering the health of
scrap-yard and re-melting plant workers. Aluminum fines may explode if
mixed with air in the presence of an igniting source.
Activities such as aluminum grinding, sawing, cutting, sanding
and scratch brushing generate fine aluminum particles, some of which are
fine enough to be potentially explosive. These particles are known as
“dust” or “powder. Particles larger than 500 microns
will not in all likelihood sustain an explosion. Material 420 microns or
finer has the potential for explosion.
In the case of aluminum, explosions can result if ignition occurs
while particles are suspended in the air as a dust cloud, as the burning
extends from one particle to another with extreme speed. Potential
sources of ignition include open flames, welding equipment, cutting
torches, matches, cigarettes, faulty electrical equipment and static
Qualified personnel can determine the degree of hazard in any
operation through laboratory explosibility testing. Dust collections
systems, of the dry or the wet type, safely capture potentially
explosive aluminum fines. Enclosures or exhaust hoods provide efficient
pick-up of the fines from the machine or equipment.
Aluminum Health Issues
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers metallic
aluminum and a number of aluminum compounds as Generally Recognized as
Through the Aluminum Association’s research efforts, through
continuing surveillance of the world’s scientific literature, and
through personal contacts and discussions with leading researchers in
the field, the Association concludes that:
- Aluminum is not linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the cause (or
causes) of which is unknown
- The biological significance of aluminum in the brain is unknown.
Everyone contains aluminum in his or her brain from birth, yet only a
small percentage of the population contracts
- Alzheimer’s disease prior to retirement age.
- Aluminum is poorly absorbed by the body. Most if not all of aluminum
ingested from food and water merely passes through the digestive tract
and out of the body.
- Ordinary environmental exposure to aluminum is safe. According to
the Food and Drug Administration, typical ingestion of aluminum in the
diet is not of public health significance. The contribution of drinking
water to the dietary intake of aluminum is far too small to be
Products in aluminum packaging are safe. Aluminum is used in
many medicines and food additives with the approval of the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration. Aluminum beverage cans and food cans have a polymer
coating. The product and the package do not come into contact with each
Aluminum cookware items include pots, pans, containers,
heat-and-serve trays, pie plates, cookie sheets and foil wrapping for
broiling or baking. According to research, cooking and handling foods
with aluminum cookware adds very little aluminum to foods. The Food and
Drug Administration has “no information at this time that the
normal dietary intake of aluminum is harmful.” The Harvard Health
Letter and The Mayo Clinic Health Letter have published similar
Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease
A connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease has
been hypothesized since the 1970’s when a Canadian researcher
published results of an analysis which indicated that Alzheimer’s
victims had elevated amounts of aluminum in their brains. Subsequent
research by others has not substantiated the initial findings; yet the
perception remains that there may be some connection.
Consumers easily identify with aluminum products, such as cookware,
beverage cans, antiperspirants and antacids. Aluminum is the third most
abundant element in the earth’s crust; it is in the air that we
breathe and the water we drink.
Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institutes of Health and
numerous reputable medical sources have issued statements that there is
insufficient evidence to establish any connection between aluminum and
The aluminum industry is concerned about the tragedy of
Alzheimer’s disease and allegations that aluminum products may
somehow be connected to the disease. The industry, through the Aluminum
Association, has sponsored research for more than 10 years, both into
the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and possible connections between
it and aluminum.
While many doctors, leading scientists, and Alzheimer’s
researchers tell us that aluminum products are safe, the industry
certainly believes that research into the possible causes of
Alzheimer’s should continue until the cause and cure are
Aluminum Hazards and Safety Publications Available from the
and Health. Epstein, S. G. (2003). The Aluminum
for Aluminum Scrap Receiving and Inspection Based on Safety and Health
Considerations. The Aluminum Association. (2009).
for Aluminum Sow Casting and Charging. The Aluminum
for Handling Aluminum Fines Generated During Various Aluminum
Fabricating Operations. The Aluminum Association. (2008).
for Handling Molten Aluminum. The Aluminum Association.
Other Aluminum Hazards and Safety Publications
Molten Metal Incident Report