Weld Smoke and Fume Dangers
Weld smoke is a direct cause of Pneumosiderosis, also known as welder’s lung. Inhaling iron dust or fumes, usually from welding, is a serious health issue. While it’s one of the most common lung diseases of welders, it’s not the only one. Welders are also at risk of chronic bronchitis and cancer. Fortunately, a properly designed dust and fume collector, like our CMAXX™, can prevent these problems.
A case study from the publication Cases Journal gives an example of how welder’s lung can occur. It follows the case of a 64-year-old man who went to his doctor with a cough. He had worked as a welder in an automobile factory for 15 years, welding steel frames. The work area was small and enclosed, without a proper dust collection system to remove weld smoke and fumes.
The man’s doctor found that his lung X-ray was abnormal. Tests showed that his lungs contained many white blood cells full of iron. White blood cells remove things from your lungs that don’t belong there, but large amounts of inhaled iron are too much for them to handle. This buildup of iron causes coughing, shortness of breath, and eventually chronic lung disease.
The man was advised to stop working as a welder. His doctor treated him for his symptoms, and after some time his lung function returned to normal. However, he remains at an increased risk of lung cancer as a result of his long exposure to hexavalent chromium present in the steel.
Along with welder’s lung, inhaled welding dust or fumes also causes an increased risk of cancer. Hexavalent chromium, found in the steel the man in the case study worked on, is a known carcinogen, and welding, in general, has been associated with increased cancer risk.
How Do You Prevent These Risks?
Because the fumes and smoke from welding contain iron and other metals in very, very small particles, these are easily inhaled deep into the lungs. Because these particles are so small, our DeltaMAXX™ nanofiber filters are efficient at removing dust as small as .3 microns, making them an excellent choice for welding and other metalworking applications.
While pneumosiderosis most often affects welders because they are usually very close to the materials they’re working with, the same problem can affect people who are exposed to fumes from laser or plasma cutting. Dust from these applications also may contain hexavalent chromium and other health hazards. Our CMAXX™ system for cutting tables can remove fumes from the air before employees are exposed to them.
The most basic way to prevent welder’s lung is to remove weld smoke and fumes from the air that welders are breathing. A dust and fume collection system like the CMAXX™ can be designed to capture fumes from individual welding stations or from the ambient air. Our systems work with you to keep welders safe and healthy. Learn more about welding fumes and cancer.
WELDING FUMES MEET “CSI”: WHY SCIENTISTS ARE COLLECTING WELDERS’ TOENAILS
A group of researchers interested in exposure to metals in welding fumes come to your workplace to collect samples. You might think they’d be there to test the air quality or to take samples of fumes or dust. These researchers didn’t come to do any of those things. The only equipment they bring with them: paper envelopes and toenail clippers.
That’s right… these researchers are here for your toenails.
That’s how researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (Grashow et al, 2014) studied the long-term exposure to toxic metals in weld fumes in a group of welders in Massachusetts. The welders provided several toenail samples over a period of time, and the clippings were analyzed.
Some forensics television shows have investigators acquire a hair sample and test it for poison. This works because many things that get into our bloodstream, including metals, are deposited in our hair and fingernails as they grow. The researchers chose toenails because they grow more slowly and give a record that covers a longer period of exposure.
So what did they find?
Even among workers who wore respirators, researchers were able to detect lead, manganese, cadmium, nickel, and arsenic. Lead is a well-known health hazard, and you probably don’t need to be told that arsenic isn’t a good thing either. Long-term exposure to manganese is associated with central nervous system problems that can mimic Parkinson’s disease. Cadmium is known to cause cancer, and nickel can cause skin problems and lung irritation.
Respirators are a key part of controlling exposure to welding fumes. These welders, though, were still exposed to enough of these metals that it could be found in their toenails. While it wasn’t within the scope of this research study to determine exactly how workers were exposed, one possibility is that respirators may be worn while welding, but not while doing other work around the shop in places where dust from cutting and welding may have accumulated.
A dust collection system that removes welding fumes and dust from the air completely will prevent toxic metal particles from accumulating in your work areas. Respirators may prevent inhalation during welding, but if the weld fumes aren’t being removed from the air, workers can still be exposed to it. A system that keeps the air clean for your entire facility doesn’t just protect workers while they’re wearing respirators. It protects all of your workers, all of the time.
Grashow, R. et al (2014). Toenail metal concentration as a biomarker of occupational welding fume exposure. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 11, 397-405.