Welding Fumes Contain Toxic Metals

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Welding Fumes and Other Hazards In the Life of a Welder

Harmful welding fumes, loud noises, intense heat, glaring light—these may be an unwelcome part of your work day. The extent of the problem depends upon the type of welding you do, and the precautions that you take. The content of the welding rods, coatings, filler metals, and base materials also greatly impacts your health.

Manganese in Welding Fumes

Your biggest on–the–job risk is exposure to the manganese contained in fumes that are given off during welding. Inhaling manganese can cause very serious damage to your brain and nervous system.

Many workers who are exposed to welding fumes suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a major disorder affecting movement and balance. They often develop “manganism,” a disease closely related to Parkinson’s, that also makes it difficult to walk and move properly. Both manganism and Parkinson’s disease cause tremors, shaking, and loss of muscle control. These conditions can become more severe as time passes.

Although the law restricts your exposure to manganese in welding fumes, its limits may not be enough to protect you. See Manganese Exposure From Welding Fumes: Know the Legal Limits.

Other Harmful Metals in Welding Fumes

When the welding rod or base metal is iron or mild steel, iron oxide may be contained in the welding fumes in addition to manganese. Breathing in iron oxide irritates your nasal passages, throat, and lungs.

Working with stainless steel may produce welding fumes containing nickel and chromium. If you have asthma, exposure to nickel can make your illness worse. Chromium can aggravate or cause sinus problems. Both nickel and chromium may cause cancer, according to NIOSH (Safety and Health Fact Sheet No. 4, American Welding Society; Welding Fumes and Gases, Center to Protect Workers’ Rights).

Hazardous Coatings

Welding on some plated or painted metals may be especially hazardous (Welding Fumes Sampling, Mine Safety and Health Administration). Cadmium is often used as a coating on steel to prevent rust. However, cadmium in welding fumes causes the lung disease, emphysema, as well as kidney failure (Cadmium Exposure from Welding, American Welding Society; Welding Health Hazards, OSHA).

If you cut a metal that has been coated with paint that contains lead, it may give off welding fumes containing lead oxide. Inhaling these welding fumes can cause lead poisoning, a condition in which you become weak and develop anemia (a low red blood cell count). Lead also harms your nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system (Lead, ATSDR).

Some welding rods are coated with asbestos. If you inhale asbestos dust that is released into the air, you are at risk for developing serious asbestos–related diseases. These include lung cancer, an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma, and asbestosis, which is a scarring of the lungs.

Heat, Light, and Mechanical Injuries

Arc welding involves ultraviolet light. If welding is done near solvents containing chlorinated hydrocarbons, the ultraviolet light can react with the solvents to form phosgene gas, which is deadly in even small amounts (Welding Hazards, AFSCME Fact Sheet). Do not take a chance—never do arc welding near degreasing equipment or solvents.

Looking at ultraviolet light without proper eye protection may lead to “welder’s flash,” which is damage to the cornea of your eye (Ultraviolet Keratitis, Reed Brozen, M.D.). You may already know about this problem. Symptoms include blurred vision and a burning sensation in your eyes. Although the condition takes about a week to heal, you risk permanent eye damage if you are often exposed to ultraviolet light for long periods of time, so it is important to wear your face shield and goggles.

Constant loud noise from machinery is another on–the–job hazard. It can lead to hearing loss and stress. Your employer must keep your exposure to noise at certain levels specified by law. For more information about safety standards, see Welder Safety Tips. That section discusses how to reduce exposure to welding fumes and other welding hazards.