The short answer is: Yes. A galvanized fire pit is safe, as long as it is used properly, outside, and not used indoors or in a poorly ventilated area. Just as it’s not safe to breathe in woodsmoke from a fire lit indoors without proper ventilation, it’s also unsafe to breathe zinc-oxide (the chemical released when zinc-coated galvanized steel heats up) without ventilation.
How galvanized metal plus high temperatures can cause metal fume fever
Many people have pointed out that the zinc coating on galvanized metal will burn off and release zinc-oxide when exposed to high heat. People who breathe in this zinc-oxide can experience flu-like sickness sometimes referred to as “Metal Fume Fever.” Meanwhile, there have been galvanized fire rings, and similar products for sale for and in regular use for decades. So why aren’t those products banned for safety reasons?
While metal fume fever should not be taken lightly, it appears to be entirely related to those who are welding galvanized steel , and often in poorly ventilated areas, where people are breathing a high concentration of the fumes because their faces often 18″ or closer to the source of the toxic vapor. This level of exposure is far different, than zinc-oxide mixed with woodsmoke in an outdoor environment, where people are sitting or standing several feet away from the fire.
Study evaluates the safety of galvanized fire pits
Not only is the exposure different between indoor galvanized welding and outdoor galvanized fire pits, the kind of fumes created by a weld that’s as hot as 1,500°C, and a wood fire that will burn between 600-1,000°C. In 2020, a study by Eurofins EAG reported that zinc melts at around 420°C and vaporizes at 977°C. This means that in a welding scenario, the zinc is instantly vaporized.
The study which was commissioned specifically to evaluate the safety of a galvanized fire pit (in this case a Galvanized Fire Ring from Tarter Farm and Ranch) stated that Metal Fume Fever patients usually recover within a few days, and that it did not cause permanent harm. In addition, it states:
The amount of zinc fumes developed from welding far exceeds any zinc fumes that may form from the heat of a wood fire based on the much higher temperatures involved, close proximity to the source of the fumes, and duration of exposure.Eurofins EAG Materials Science: Technical Report for Tarter Farm & Ranch Equipment, August, 2020
That study concluded that “Inhalation of fumes from melted and/or vaporized zinc from a galvanized zinc coating on steel fire ring will have no danger to people standing or sitting near the fire. If the fire ring is being used in a ventilated area as expected for a wood fire, then exposure to any small amounts of zinc will be insignificant.