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Welding Fume Dangers

According to their internal documents, from 1932 to 1980, the manufacturers of welding rods systematically concealed evidence that linked their welding rods to serious adverse health effects on welders. Welding rod manufacturers discovered that welding fumes posed serious health risks to welders, but because of economic concerns, the industry covered up the problems associated with their product for almost 50 years.

Welding, and the toxic fumes it produces, can cause many serious health problems. But, specifically, the manganese in these welding rods may cause manganism, a serious and debilitating condition clinically similar to, and sometimes misdiagnosed as, Parkinson's disease. Moreover, welders may exhibit symptoms of this condition after mere months of exposure to welding fumes.

What are welding fumes?
Common welding processes produce many airborne contaminants, which may include fluorides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, ozone, and metal fumes. Metal fumes are very small particles that are formed when hot vapors cool and condense into very small particles. The particles are often smaller than 1/50 th the width of a human hair but can be seen when they stay suspended in the vapor or gas.

Welding fumes and gases can come from almost any component of the welding process.

What health problems do welding fumes cause?
Welding fumes can cause many health problems, both from short-term and long-term exposure including:

  • Metal fume fever (flu-like symptoms)
  • Respiratory problems
  • Gastrointestinal effects including chronic gastritis, gastroduodentitis, ulcers etc.
  • Reproductive risks
  • Cancers
  • Kidney and heart damage
  • Central nervous system effects including tremors, manganism, etc.

What is the role of manganese in welding injuries?
Since the appearance of several studies discussing effects of, specifically, manganese exposure on welders, interest in this common element has increased.* In welding, manganese-containing metal fumes can come from both the electrode and the base metal being welded.

In addition to its many important uses in manufacturing, manganese is an element essential to healthy body function. However, toxic exposures to manganese, usually from inhaling particulate matter during industrial processes, are associated with many serious health problems. In 1980, it was estimated that about 300 U.S. workers were exposed to pure manganese, and about 630,000 were exposed to other forms of manganese.**

  • Routine inhalation of manganese-containing metal fumes can result in:
  • Central nervous system conditions including manganism
  • Lung damage
  • Reproductive effects

Neurological effects including severe depression. May also include poor hand-eye coordination, unsteady hands, decreased reaction time, decreased postural stability, and lower levels of cognitive flexibility.

What is manganism?
Because of the presence of significant amounts of manganese in welding components, welders can be susceptible to manganism, which is a condition caused by persistent toxic exposure to manganese. Symptoms vary but may include:

  • Slow and clumsy gait
  • Slow or slurred speech
  • Loss of equilibrium
  • Shakiness and Tremors
  • Decreased hand agility

What has been done to protect welders?
Each component of welding fume has exposure limits, but there has been debate over what the exposure limit should be for welding fume as a whole. To protect its workers, the industry is legally required to meet only those levels specified by OSHA PELs (permissible exposure limits). Those standards apply to the welding of iron, mild steel, or aluminum unless a substance-specific standard can be applied.

To minimize the risk of welding fumes, workplace precautions should be in place. If exposure limits are exceeded or are feared, a respiratory protection program should be implemented. OSHA describes several methods to control exposure to welding fume:

  • Process enclosure.
  • Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) that is easy, adjustable, and comfortable to use.
  • General dilution ventilation in the form of draft fans or air-movers.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Substitution: using welding rods that produce low fume or welding guns that extract most of the fume.
  • OSHA requires the removal of all paints, solvents, and residues before welding or torch cutting.

In addition, Manufacturer Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are used to warn workers of dangers associated with the use of their product and must be shown to all employees who request them. They list the OSHA PEL limits for the components of their products, discuss the health hazard data available for those components, and list any special precautions and protections that should be taken during the normal use of the product. MSDS are provided for all components of welding, including the base metal and welding rods.

If your health has been adversely affected as a result of intense exposure to welding fumes, you may be entitled to compensation. For an immediate evaluation of your case, call our law firm or fill out an online consultation form today!

Sources:

* "Parkinsonism Due to Manganism in a Welder", International Journal of Toxicology (2003)

** National Occupational Exposure Survey (1989)

This law firm is not affiliated with, sponsored by or associated with the International Journal of Toxicology or OSHA.

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