Welding Fumes May Contain Harmful Levels of Manganese

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Welders Had Increased Rates of Parkinson–Like Symptoms

ST LOUIS, MO — February 25, 2005 — Welders may have higher rates of Parkinson’s disease symptoms than other groups do, according to a new study. Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that affects movement and gait. Signs of the illness include shaking or tremors, slow movements, stiffness, and poor balance.

Among over 1,400 male welders from Alabama who took part in the study, the rate of Parkinson’s disease symptoms was seven to ten times greater than that of men in another study in Copiah County, Mississippi. The researchers chose the Copiah County report for comparison because both studies used similar research methods.

The welders ranged in age from 40 to 69 years. They provided medical history, work history, and answered questionnaires. The researchers measured Parkinson’s disease symptoms using a standard diagnostic tool called the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. Subjects were subdivided into groups with definite Parkinson’s disease, probable Parkinson’s disease, and no significant disease symptoms, based on both “liberal” and “conservative” estimates of these categories.

With use of the more liberal criteria for diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, 148 welders had a diagnosis of definite Parkinson’s disease (10.4%), 185 had probable Parkinson’s disease (13.0%), and 929 (65.3%) were unclassified. With use of the more conservative criteria, 82 subjects had a diagnosis of definite Parkinson’s disease (5.8%), 180 subjects had probable Parkinson’s disease (12.6%), and 1,000 (70%) were unclassified. The “unclassified” category may have included those with more mild Parkinson’s disease symptoms; only 126 individuals showed no Parkinson’s symptoms at all.

In a previous study, career welders developed Parkinson’s disease at an earlier age compared with a control group of non–welders (Neurology 2001 Jan 9; 56(1): 8–13). In some cases, the welders had Parkinson’s disease at the age of 46, about 17 years before most other Parkinson patients develop the disease. In the current study, welders aged 40 to 64 years tended to develop the Parkinson–like symptoms.

The researchers suggest that welding exposure either increases the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease at all ages or shifts the distribution of Parkinson’s disease to a younger age. “Our preliminary work warrants a follow–up population–based epidemiology study, given the public health implications of a potential increased risk of parkinsonism in 1.5 million welding–exposed workers in the United States,” they commented.

Dangers of Welding Fumes

Welding rods, especially steel ones, give off fumes that can contain the metal manganese. Breathing in this metal can damage the brain and nervous system. Various studies, including those involving manganese miners and workers making manganese alloys, show the dangers of manganese. Manganese may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease as well as cause manganism, a nervous system and brain condition that has some features similar to Parkinson’s disease. Manganism also results in serious gait problems.

If you are a welder or have worked around welding fumes, you should see your doctor if you have any of the Parkinson–like symptoms listed below. Let your doctor know about your work history and exposure to manganese so that he or she can diagnose and treat your condition.

  • tremors or shaking
  • balance problems
  • slowed movement

If you would like information about exposure to welding fumes and your legal options, please feel free to contact us at Brayton Purcell. We have been handling medical/legal cases for over 20 years, including those involving exposure to toxic substances.