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NIOSH Program Portfolio



NORA Manufacturing Sector Strategic Goals

927Z6RT - Welding fume metals exposure matrix determination

Start Date: 10/1/2006
End Date: 9/30/2009

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Michael Keane
Phone: 304-285-6163
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: HELD
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goal Addressed

Secondary Goal Addressed

Attributed to Manufacturing

Project Description

Short Summary

This project addresses the health effects of welding, an important activity in both the Manufacturing and Construction Sectors of the NIOSH Program Portfolio. The objectives of the project include detailed speciation of manganese and chromium forms in the fumes, and investigation of the biologically available metals in simulated biological fluids. This approach will be applied to a spectrum of welding processes including the use of alternate shield gases of higher and lower oxygen content to estimate the effect on toxic entities such as hexavalent chromium and oxidized manganese species. Metal ion content in simulated plasma, lysosomal fluid, and simulated pulmonary surfactant will be measured. Outputs will include peer-reviewed publications, presentations, close collaboration with ongoing toxicology studies already in progress, and communications with welding equipment manufacturers.


The fundamental hypothesis of this project is that all welding fumes are not equivalent, neither from a perspective of exposure composition nor from a disease potential perspective, and a complex exposure assessment strategy is needed to adequately characterize welding fume exposures. The approach will be a general exposure assessment strategy that includes measures of welding fume beyond mass and elemental composition, and will focus on speciation of manganese chemical forms and chromium forms, which are the elements of greatest concern in regard to disease resulting from exposure, namely cancer and neurological disease. In addition to elemental composition and Mn and Cr speciation, the bioavailable levels of metals, including Fe, Ni, Mn, and Cr will be estimated using simulated plasma solutions and simulated lysosomal and pulmonary surfactant fluids. Chemical speciation for Mn will follow the scheme of Thomassen et al., which extracts a soluble fraction, an acetic-acid soluble fraction, and acetic acid/hydroxylamine fraction, and an aqua regia/HF fraction for insoluble Mn alloys, etc. Chromium forms will use solid-phase extraction to separate trivalent Cr from hexavalent Cr, using NIOSH method 7703 adapted for this study, followed by UV-visible spectrophotometry; soluble and insoluble chromium (VI) will be determined. Following Mn and Cr speciation, bioavailable metals will be measured in simulated plasma, a simulated lysosomal fluid, and a simulated pulmonary surfactant. Levels of bioavailable metals will be measured by inductively-coupled plasma/atomic emission spectroscopy (NIOSH method 7300), and Fe, Mn, and Ni solubles will be measured by ion chromatography. This should yield realistic estimates of soluble metal ions in different biological milieu, to inform toxicologists and similar researchers in experimental design. Fluoride content will be measured using ion-selective electrodes, by adapting NIOSH method 7902.

Welding fumes to be studied will include gas metal arc and manual metal arc stainless steel and mild steel samples generated by Lincoln Electric, and the subject of toxicological Studies by Antonini et al. in PPRB, as well as samples generated in the NIOSH Morgantown robotic welding system. Samples generated will include stainless and mild steel GMAW samples, generated under a typical 95%Ar, 5% CO2 atmosphere, as well as some special samples generated using a special gas mixture of 75% He and 25% Ar to reduce oxygen content and ideally lower Cr6+ content in the fume; pulsed-mode techniques will also be used with 95%Ar, 5% CO2 mixtures to lower Cr6+ content. This approach should alter the spectrum of Mn oxides toward less oxidized forms also.

There are no toxicology components to this study, but the welding fumes can be evaluated for potential adverse effects by simple biochemistry assays for both oxidative potential and DNA damage, to establish relevance of changes in composition. Simple linoleic acid oxidation assays can be used to rank samples or their fractions, and extracted DNA from viruses can be used to establish nucleic acid oxidation products such as 8-OH deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), which is the hallmark of hydroxyl radical damage.

Communication products will include peer-reviewed publications in journals, especially exposure-assessment-focused journals, communications and co-publications with collaborators such as the PPRB Welding inhalation group, and communications with collaborating welding equipment manufacturers such as Lincoln Electric.


1) Identify and obtain welding fume samples from gas metal arc stainless steel and mild steel processes, and manual metal arc stainless steel processes,

2) Generate altered welding fumes from gas metal arc stainless steel processes with 95% Ar/5% CO2 , 25% Ar/75%He, and 95% Ar, 5%O2 , and 95% Ar/5% CO2 pulse mode processes,

3) Speciate manganese forms in all fumes by sequential extraction and chemical analysis,

4) Speciate chromium forms by solid phase extraction and spectrophotometric analysis,

5) Determine bioavailable metals in simulated plasma, simulated lysosomal fluid, and simulated pulmonary surfactant fluids,

6) Determine total metals content by ICP-AES (collaboration with DART),

7) Determine oxidative potential of fumes from all processes by linoleic acid peroxidation in cell-free system,

8) Determine DNA damage potential of fumes from all processes by 8-OH dG assay by HPLC/mass spectroscopy or other methods in a cell-free system,

9) Publish results periodically in exposure assessment journals,

10) Present results at conferences and meetings,

11) Communicate results at major intervals to collaborating industrial partners and other welding industry groups

Mission Relevance

Sector allocations were determined by statistics from the US Dept. of Labor industry population figures. Welding is a very common occupational activity in the US; over 800,000 workers do welding as part of their jobs. Occupational health studies indicate that welders have a high pneumoconiosis (SMR=1.86), and lung cancer (SMR=1.21) death rates; pulmonary function decrements are also associated with welding. A number of studies that have attempted to link welding fume exposures and Parkinson's-like neurological conditions that have been seen in manganese miners and workers, generally called manganism. There have been negative studies on this issue as well as positive ones, and the linkage is controversial at this time. As for manganism in general, the exact causative Mn forms are not well understood. Welding is associated with a number of industrial sectors, including construction and manufacturing, and a wide variety of processes are used, depending on needs, materials, and costs. As well as steel, many other materials are welded, including stainless steel, alloys, aluminum, titanium, and specialty metals. The diversity of metals and processes necessitates a thorough and complex exposure assessment to assure sufficient and competent understanding of the hazards and successful intervention strategies. For example, chromium may be present in stainless steel welding fume in the carcinogenic hexavalent form, may be soluble or insoluble, or may be in the noncarcinogenic form of trivalent Cr. Likewise, manganese in welding fume may be present as the element, as MnO, Mn2O3, Mn3O4, as MnO2, or other chemical forms in the fume; which of these forms contributes to manganism is not known at present. The current analyses for Mn are for total elemental Mn at highly acidic pH; this is not likely to be uniquely related to biologically relevant Mn. The approach will be to measure elemental composition and Mn and Cr speciation in different fumes; the bioavailable levels of metals, including Fe, Ni, Mn, and Cr will be estimated using simulated plasma solutions and simulated lysosomal and pulmonary surfactant fluids. The fumes will be selected based on common processes. One variable will include the oxygen content of shield gas for Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW). This may lead to recommendations on shield gas composition to lower the concentration of toxic species.

The results of this project are needed not only by exposure assessment personnel and risk assessors, but also by current researchers in cancer and neurological disease, as well as those designing intervention strategies for minimizing the most harmful agents in welding fume exposures. In the Construction Sector, the project will contribute to Strategic Goal 6: Reduce welding fume exposures and future related health risks among construction workers by increasing the availability and use of welding fume controls and practices for welding tasks, especially output goal E09PPCONAOG6.5.1, Support research to improve understanding of health effects and field exposures to welding fumes – both for special contaminants of concern and for contaminant mixtures associated with the ten most common types of welding combinations, and also E09PPCONAOG6.5.2, Exposure characterization component - Inventory existing welding fume exposure characterization data to identify data gaps where additional exposure data are needed and fill these data gaps. In the Manufacturing Sector, the project will contribute to Strategic Goal 5, Reduce the number of respiratory conditions and diseases due to exposures in the manufacturing sector, and Strategic Goal 6, Reduce the prevalence of cancer due to exposures in the manufacturing sector. In Cross-Sector programs, contributions will be in Cancer, Reproductive, and Cardiovascular diseases, Strategic Goal 1: Reduce the incidence of work-related cancer, especially, Activity/Output Activity/Output Goal 1.1.2. (09PPCRCAOG1.1.2); Assess worker exposures, pre-cancerous effects of exposure or susceptibility to high-priority carcinogens through industry-wide surveys, population-based studies, analysis of biological specimens, and research on control technologies; and Activity/Output Goal 1.1.4. 09PPCRCAOG1.1.4); Improve surveillance methods to identify potential workplace carcinogens and emerging occupational hazards, for example, through the development of automated NAICS codes on standard cancer assessment sources (e.g., death certificates or cancer registries). In the Respiratory Diseases Cross-Sector area, the project will contribute to Strategic Goal 4: Prevent and reduce work-related respiratory malignancies, and especially to Intermediate Goal 09PPRDRIG4.1, reduce the incidence of work-related cancer through research, promotion of carcinogen-free workplaces, and international collaborations. In the Exposure Assessment Cross-Sector Area, the project will contribute to Strategic Goal 2: Develop or improve specific methods and tools to assess worker exposures to critical occupational agents and stressors, especially Activity/Output 09PPEXAAOG2.3.1, Development of new or improved methods to measure chemicals or other occupational hazards in the work environment.

Disease incidences and proportional mortality ratios were taken from The NIOSH 2002 Work-Related Lung Disease Surveillance Report.

Page last updated: June 3, 2011
Page last reviewed: May 23, 2011
Content Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Office of the Director


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