All Types of Welders Have Been Exposed to Manganese Fumes

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Welding Rod Dangers
Portrait of welder.

Groups Exposed to Manganese Fumes or Dust

In 1837, Dr. John Couper first described serious health problems in Scottish manganese ore grinders. These included awkward gait, tremors, and body stiffness—symptoms that we now know are characteristic of manganism or manganese poisoning and other Parkinson–like diseases (Br Ann Med Pharmacol 1837; 1: 41–42). Over a century later, researchers began to document similar problems in manganese miners in Cuba, Morocco, Chile, and the United States (Int J Occup Environ Health. 2003 Apr–Jun; 9(2): 153–63; AMA Arch Ind Health. 1957 Jul; 16(1): 64–6). They also observed “manganese madness,” odd behavior that includes fits of laughter, crying, mood swings, and memory loss (Neurotoxicology 1999 Apr–Jun; 20(2–3): 367–78; Ind Med Surg. 1957 Apr; 26(4): 167–73).

Although the heaviest exposure to manganese fumes has occurred among manganese miners, other groups are also at risk for manganese poisoning. Employees in plants manufacturing dry alkaline batteries may be exposed to the compound manganese dioxide (Neurotoxicology 1999 Apr–Jun; 20(2–3): 255–71; Br J Ind Med. 1992 Jan; 49(1): 25–34). Workers in facilities making manganese alloys may also be exposed to manganese (Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2004 May; 77(4): 277–87; Neurotoxicology 1999 Apr–Jun; 20(2–3): 287–97).

Farmworkers can come into contact with manganese fumes from pesticides such as Maneb (manganese ethylene–bis–dithiocarbamate) (Scand J Work Environ Health. 1994 Aug; 20(4): 301–5; Neurolog. 1988 Apr; 38(4): 550–3). Unprotected work in the fields too often leads to headache, fatigue, nervousness, memory loss, tremors, and rigid body posture.

Manganese in Welding Fumes

Exposure to manganese fumes has been a problem for all types of welders, including those involved in construction, the automobile industry, shipyards, railroad track welding, and the production of parts for heavy excavation equipment (Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 2000 Oct; 15(10): 746–50; Occup Environ Med. 1996 Jan; 53(1): 32–40; Br J Ind Med. 1990 Oct ; 47(10):704–7). The type and content of the welding rod comes into play, as does the work habits of the welder. For example, one study showed that some welders bent over their work and others stood erect; some kept their faces in line with the welding plume while others kept their faces at an angle away from the plume (Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 2002 Mar; 17(3): 145–151). Other factors affecting exposure to manganese fumes are ventilation and the use of safety equipment. See Welder Safety Issues for more details.