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Welding Fumes - Manganese

05/12/2009

Question:

What are the effects of manganese from welding carbon steel, and what effects does this have on the human body? I have been a welder for 25 years, welding stainless and carbon steel. I just read an article on this subject and I did not like what it said, so I thought I would ask.

Answer:

Manganese has been well-characterized as a neurotoxin for many years. The primary effect of toxic levels of exposure is a set of symptoms that look a little like Parkinson’s disease: tremor, muscular rigidity, impairment of gait, lack of facial expression (masked face), and impaired speech. It can also cause psychiatric disorders (psychosis). I have attached an article (by the same author of the abstract below) on the effects of manganese form welding. According to this author, there is not enough evidence to say one way or the other what the neurological effects from manganese in welding fumes might be. Most cases of neurotoxicity in welding are in workers welding in poorly ventilated areas (see recommendations below).

I would say the broader issue is the health effects of welding in general, since the fumes you are exposed to are complex and likely not 100% manganese. The abstract below is from an article appearing in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2003. The review of existing human (occupational settings) and animal studies finds, “Pulmonary effects observed in full-time welders have included metal fume fever, airway irritation, lung function changes, susceptibility to pulmonary infection, and a possible increase in the incidence of lung cancer. Although limited in most cases, animal studies have tended to support the findings from epidemiologic studies.” The authors still conclude that not much is known about mechanisms, or how welding may cause disease.

I would recommend that you do all you can to minimize your exposure to welding fumes (ensure adequate ventilation). Are there exhaust hoods present where you work? Would management be willing to work with an industrial hygienist and/or an industrial engineer to modify the workstations to minimize your exposures? Lastly, you could wear respiratory protection.

You have already had some exposure, so the key to minimizing your health risks from those exposures is to stop smoking if you’re a current smoker, and don’t start if you’re not. If your company offers them, get a baseline lung function test, as well as a neurological test, and have those repeated yearly. If you are very concerned, it may be worth the expense to visit an occupational health physician to get some of these tests and discuss your concerns.

More information:

1. Fate of manganese associated with the inhalation of welding fumes: Potential neurological effects

2. Pulmonary effects of welding fumes: Review of worker and experimental animal studies

Related Resources:

Fate of manganese associated with the inhalation of...

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University