Parkinson’s Disease, Manganism, and Cancer in Welders
Welding can be a dangerous job, leading to breathing difficulties, an illness called manganism that is similar to Parkinson’s disease, or even Parkinson’s disease itself. Welders may also be more prone to lung cancer than the rest of the population, according to some reports (Cancer Causes Control. 2004 Apr; 15(3): 285–94; Scand J Work Environ Health. 2002 Jun; 28(3): 163–7; Am J Ind Med. 1996 Oct; 30(4): 373–82). Welding fumes may cause many of these health problems, since they contain harmful substances such as iron, manganese, chromium, cadmium, and nickel.
Welding rods can give off manganese–containing fumes during the welding process. Although small amounts of manganese are contained in your food, breathing in excess manganese damages your nervous system. As a result, many welders develop a condition called manganese poisoning or “manganism.” Patients with manganism exhibit a fixed gaze, tremors, a rigid body, and slowed movement. The signs of manganism are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease.
Exposure to welding fumes increases your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, especially at an earlier age than expected (see Welders Have a High Rate of Parkinson’s Disease). If you have worked around welding fumes, we urge you to get regular medical checkups. Also, be on the look–out for any Parkinson–like signs such as tremors, shaking, difficulty in walking, and balance problems. Describe these conditions to your doctor. See Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease and Manganism Diagnosis for more details.
Other Health Issues Related to Welding Fumes
As a welder, manganism and Parkinson’s disease might not be your only health concerns. Welders are also more likely to suffer from severe, long–lasting lung infections, bronchitis, and asthma (J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2004 Feb 13; 67(3): 233–49). One New Zealand study showed an increased rate of bronchitis and reduced lung capacity in 62 career welders, as opposed to a group of 75 non–welders (Occup Environ Med. 1998 Mar; 55(3): 150–4). Welders may also contract siderosis, a temporary reduced lung capacity due to iron oxide exposure (Monaldi Arch Chest Dis. 1993 Aug;48(4): 304–14).
Some researchers have linked excess manganese exposure to impotence and infertility in men (Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Jul; 101 Suppl 2: 81–90; ATSDR, Public Health Statement for Manganese). Others have suggested that welders exposed to manganese in welding fumes develop anxiety, nervousness, memory loss, learning problems, and aggressive behavior (Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2003 Oct; 206(6): 517–29; Neurotoxicology. 1999 Apr–Jun;20 (2–3): 367–78).The effect of manganese on a woman’s reproductive system is not clear, and more studies need to be done on manganese and fertility in both men and women.
Welding and Asbestos–Related Diseases
Some welding rods are coated with asbestos. Asbestos fibers may be released during welding, increasing a welder’s chances of contracting asbestos–related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and a severe cancer called mesothelioma. It can take decades to develop an asbestos–related disease—at least 15 years for asbestosis and 40 years or more for mesothelioma. Symptoms of these diseases, including cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue, are similar to symptoms of many other diseases. Therefore, if you have been exposed to welding fumes and are experiencing respiratory problems, we again urge you to visit your doctor and provide details about your exposure.