AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 4, 2017

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Low Levels of Manganese in Welding Fumes Linked to Neurological Problems

Current safety standards may not protect workers adequately

Welders exposed to airborne manganese at estimated levels below federal occupational safety standards exhibit neurological problems similar to Parkinson’s disease, according to new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Further, the more they are exposed to manganese-containing welding fumes, the faster the workers’ signs and symptoms worsen. The findings suggests that current safety standards may not adequately protect welders from the dangers of the job. “We found that chronic exposure to manganese-containing welding fumes is associated with progressive neurological symptoms such as slow movement and difficulty speaking,” said Brad A. Racette, MD, a professor of neurology and the study’s senior author. “The more exposure you have to welding fumes, the more quickly those symptoms progress over time.” At high levels, manganese – a key component of important industrial processes such as welding and steelmaking – can cause manganism, a sever neurologic disorder with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, including slowness, clumsiness, tremors, mood changes and difficulty walking and speaking. The risk of manganism drove the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decades ago to set standards limiting the amount of manganese in the air at workplaces. While these safety standards are widely believed to have eliminated manganism as an occupational hazard, researchers who study the effects of manganese exposure have long suspects that there may still be some health effects much lower than what is allowable per OSHA standards. 

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