Welding Fumes and Manganese

Welding Fumes and Manganese

Key points

  • Welding fumes are composed of metals and most fumes contain a small percentage of manganese.
  • Welders, their employers, and healthcare workers have expressed concerns about potential neurological effects associated with exposure to manganese in welding fumes.
Industrial welder with a torch.


Manganese is an essential nutrient. A healthy person with normal liver and kidney function can excrete excess dietary manganese. Inhaled manganese is of greater concern because it bypasses the body's normal defense mechanisms. This can lead to manganese accumulation and damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

Health effects

Male workers exposed to manganese also have a higher risk of fertility problems. Prolonged exposure to high manganese concentrations (>1 mg/m3) in air may lead to a Parkinsonian syndrome known as "manganism." Chronic exposure to the manganese-containing pesticide, maneb, may cause Parkinson-like symptoms. Parkinson-like symptoms may include tremors, slowness of movement, muscle rigidity, and poor balance.

Neurological and Neurobehavioral Effects

Numerous studies indicate that welders may be at increased risk of neurological and neurobehavioral health effects when exposed to metals such as lead, iron, and manganese. Carbon monoxide, heat, and stress can also contribute to neurological impairments in welders. Some studies indicate that welders exposed to low levels of manganese (<0.2 mg/m3) perform more poorly on tests of brain function and motor skills. These effects include changes in mood and short-term memory, altered reaction time, and reduced hand-eye coordination. Affected workers frequently show abnormal accumulations of manganese in the region of the brain known as the globus pallidus, which plays an important role in movement regulation.

Welder's Anthrax

NIOSH researchers identified a new occupational disease among metalworkers called welder's anthrax. It is a rare but serious disease caused by the bacteria that produces anthrax toxin. Research suggests that exposure to metal fumes might increase workers' risk for lung infection. This is true even with common, relatively harmless infectious agents. It is still mostly unknown how metal fumes cause this disease. Theories include that metal fumes (or iron) act as a growth nutrient for bacteria, enhance the binding of bacteria to lung tissues, or impair immune responses in the lung through oxidative stress.

Male metalworker.
Welding fumes are composed of metals and may contain small amounts of manganese.

Risk of exposure

Exposure to manganese dust occurs primarily in mining, ore-crushing, and metallurgical operations for iron, steel, ferrous and nonferrous alloys. Manufacturing of the following products can also lead to manganese exposure:

  • dry-cell batteries
  • anti-knock gasoline additives
  • pesticides (e.g., maneb)
  • pigments, dyes, and inks
  • incendiary devices

Manganese fumes are produced during metallurgical operations and several types of welding operations. The exposure can vary considerably depending on the amount of manganese in the welding wire, rods, flux and base metal. Confined space welding can significantly increase exposure to manganese fumes. For information about assessment of occupational exposure to manganese visit the NIOSH manganese topic page.

Female welder
Welding in confined spaces can increase exposure to manganese fumes.

Occupational Exposure Limits for Manganese

Occupational Exposure Limits for Manganese
Agency Occupational Exposure Limit
NIOSH REL 1 mg/m3 (TWA) and 3 mg/m3 (STEL)
NIOSH IDLH 500 mg/m3
OSHA PEL 5 mg/m3 (ceiling)
ACGIH TLV Respirable fraction: 0.02 mg/m3(TWA)
Inhalable fraction: 0.1 mg/m3 (TWA)

IDLH: immediately dangerous to life or health concentration
PEL: permissible exposure limit
REL: recommended exposure limit
STEL: short-term exposure limit
TLV: threshold limit value
TWA: time-weighted average