Welders have a tough job. Being exposed to welding fumes is linked with more than just burns and eye injuries, a new study shows that some welders develop brain changes consistent with early Parkinson’s disease – even if they’re seemingly healthy and symptom-free.
Welding and the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease
Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis came to this conclusion after recruiting 20 healthy welders and 20 non-welders with Parkinson’s disease (as a control group) to take part in a study. They also recruited 20 healthy non-welders as a second control group. Welders are routine exposed to manganese during welding, and this exposure has been linked with a greater risk of Parkinson’s disease.
What did the study show? They discovered the welders not only had twice the normal amount of manganese in their blood, but when they imaged their brains using PET scanning, their brains showed changes involving a pathway called the nigrostriatal dopamine system. These changes were consistent with early brain injury in areas of the brain that produce dopamine, despite the fact that the welders had no symptoms.
Changes in dopamine levels are linked with Parkinson’s disease, but the changes in the welders occurred in a slightly different area of the brain than is typically seen with Parkinson’s disease. Researchers believe these changes represent early brain injury that could eventually lead to Parkinson-like symptoms – and the changes are due to exposure to manganese from welding fumes.
Inhaling manganese is more toxic to the body than getting manganese through diet, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control; workers who are exposed to low levels of manganese from welding fumes can develop memory and coordination problems as well as other neurological symptoms.
Other Welding Health Hazards
Obviously, welding isn’t good for the brain or the nervous system, but it’s not the only hazards of welding fumes. Welders are exposed to the fumes of other metals such as zinc, lead, nickel and copper. The fumes of some of these metals are suspected carcinogens, and some like lead, can damage the central nervous system. Welders are also at high risk for cataracts and back problems.
Health Hazards of Welding: The Bottom Line?
Welding fumes aren’t healthy for a variety of reasons – and exposure to them could increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Even if a welder is completely symptom-free, they can still have changes consistent with brain injury. Hopefully, further research will show how many welders actually go on to develop the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – and ways can be found to further reduce their exposure to welding fumes and manganese.
CDC.gov. “Welding and Manganese: Potential Neurological Effects”
Medscape.com. “Welding Fumes May Cause Early Parkinson-Like Brain Damage”