In recent years, several studies have established how much inhaling welding fumes can affect workers’ health. One University of Utah study found that welders or those who had exposure to welding fumes were 43% more likely to develop lung cancer, including mesothelioma.
As a result, scientists have classified welding fumes as a Group 1 carcinogen. Previously, welding fumes were considered as only possibly carcinogenic to people.
Some welding fumes are easy to see, while others are invisible. Often, very fine solid particles (mainly metal oxides) release into the air while welding.
The risk for developing cancer depends on many factors, including:
- Welding process used
- Material being welded
- Other air contaminants
- Location welding is being done
- Length of time welding
Welding stainless steel with a high arc produces a lot of fumes and easily can result in overexposure. If a welder feels dizziness, nausea or eye, nose or throat irritation while welding, he or she should stop immediately and go outdoors for fresh air.
OSHA notes that welders can reduce their exposure to welding fumes (and reduce their cancer risk) by doing the following:
- Staying upwind of welding fumes when working in open or outdoor areas
- Using a ventilation system for indoor welding (simply leaving a door to the shop open isn’t enough)
- Wearing respiratory protection in places where ventilation doesn’t negate welding fume exposure
- Cleaning welding surfaces often, to remove coatings that could result in toxic exposure levels
Exposure to welding fumes also increases the risk of kidney damage and nervous system damage. If you have had long-term exposure to welding gases at your workplace and are now facing lung or kidney cancer, consult an experienced attorney. You may be able get compensation for your medical costs and more.