New research shows welders are at a risk of developing Parkinson's disease
and significantly earlier than the general population. As we know, genetics
related cause is seen in a small number of patients. More than 80 % of
the patients lack any family history of this disease. Researchers found
out that patients who were professional welders developed signs of PD an
average of 15 years earlier than other patinets.
One possible explanation is that welding fumes contain high levels of
manganese, a mineral known to cause manganism (a disease that resembles
PD) in miners who inhale large amounts of the mineral.
Manganism is a chronic disorder of the central nervous system. The symptoms
of manganism are similar to Parkinson's disease symptoms, and may include
weakness, slow and clumsy movements, difficulty breathing, and loss of
Manganism is caused by exposure to high levels of manganese. Miners,
welders, and workers in some industries such as agriculture and steel production
are at risk for manganism.
Manganese is contained in pesticides and fertilizers and may be released
into the air and groundwater. If you work in or live near a factory where
manganese metal is used or produced, you should be concerned about overexposure
to manganese through the air or water. Welders using manganese welding
rods are at a higher level of risk of manganism.
If you suffer from manganism caused by inhalation of manganese, you
may be able to receive compensation for your injuries. Click here for a
free legal consultation with an attorney near you.
Chronic exposure to high levels of manganese primarily results in problems
with the central nervous system. These effects are termed manganism. The
symptoms of manganism resemble Parkinson's Disease symptoms.
Manganism occurs when too much manganese injures the part of the brain
that controls body movements. This exposure occurs primarily through inhalation.
Although some of the symptoms of manganism can be treated with drugs and
therapy, the damage that occurs to the brain is permanent.
Symptoms of managanism may include: Muscle stiffness and soreness, Fatigue
and weakness, Speech disturbances, Loss of coordination, Abnormal walk,
Tremors, Leg cramps or weakness, Fixed facial expression, Impotence, Difficulty
breathing, Difficulty swallowing, Slow and clumsy movements, Stooped posture,
Mental and emotional disturbances
Men exposed to high levels may not be able to father children. Other
chronic effects from inhaling high amounts of manganese include an increased
incidence of cough and bronchitis and susceptibility to infectious lung
Workers usually do not develop symptoms of manganism unless they have
been exposed for many months or years. However, there are reports that
patients have developed symptoms several years after exposure to manganese
had ceased. Manganism is a permanently disabling disease for which there
is no cure.
Who's at Risk for Manganism?
If you work with manganese ore in a mine or factory or live near such a
facility, you could be at risk for manganism.
Welders are also among those likely to be exposed to high levels of manganese.
Manganese is also found in pesticides and fertilizers, used in the production
of batteries, and is an ingredient in some ceramics. Several tests are
available for measuring manganese in blood, urine, hair, or feces. However,
there are some problems with these tests: manganese is a normal part of
the body, so some manganese is always found; and excess manganese is usually
removed from the body within a few days, making it difficult to measure
Rocks containing high levels of manganese compounds are mined through both
open pit and underground mining. The ore is separated from rocks and crushed
before shipment. After shipment, manganese ores are ground and bagged for
further industrial uses, such as being mixed with iron to produce steel.
The grinding process has also been responsible for cases of manganese poisoning.
If dropped, manganese metal dust becomes airborne.
Factory Workers and the Surrounding Community
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), "People who
work in factories where manganese metal is produced from manganese ore
or where manganese compounds are used to make steel or other products are
most likely to be exposed, through inhalation, to higher than normal levels
If you live near such a factory, you might also be exposed to higher levels
of manganese dust in the outside air.
There are almost half a million full-time welders in the U.S. Manganese
is an essential element in the production of steel products and steel welding
electrodes and is present in fume that is generated during welding of these
Washington University School of Medicine researchers have concluded that
welding might trigger early onset of Parkinson's disease. A research team
found that some professional welders developed signs of the disease an
average of 15 years earlier than the general population. (Details on the
study is featured in the January 2001 issue of Neurology.)
Air and Groundwater
Manganese can be found in groundwater as a result of its use in the production
of batteries and steel, and because it is contained in pesticides and fertilizers.
If manganese compounds from a factory or a waste site get into your water,
you could be exposed.
Because manganese is released into air when fossil fuels are burned, you
might be exposed to higher levels if you live near a coal or oil-burning
factory, or close to a major highway.
Many pesticides contain manganese, which puts agricultural workers at risk.
The use of manganesed-based pesticides is widespread, in both industrialized
and developing countries.
Iron deficiency anemia may also make workers more susceptible to manganism.
Researchers Link Welding and Parkinson's Disease
By Cat Lazaroff
ST. LOUIS, Missouri, January 23, 2001 (ENS) - Scientists have identified
the first clue that welding might trigger the early onset of Parkinson's
disease. A research team found that 15 professional welders developed typical
clinical and neurological signs of the disease an average of 15 years earlier
than the general population.
"This research doesn't prove that welding causes Parkinson's disease,"
explained Brad Racette, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at Washington
University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "But it's suspicious that
the majority of these patients had a much younger age of onset. Our theory
is that we have identified a group of people who probably would have developed
the disease eventually, but something in the welding environment caused
them to develop symptoms earlier."
Welding - already a hazardous profession - has been newly linked to
early onset of Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease is a progressive movement disorder that affects
more than one million Americans. It is characterized by slowness of
movement and tremors that
affect one side more than the
Although genetics can account for
some cases, 80 percent of
Parkinson's disease patients lack a family history of the disease.
Scientists have hypothesized that environmental factors are largely
but no such factors have yet been identified.
One clue is that manganese miners are susceptible to a condition called
manganism when they inhale large amounts of the mineral manganese. The
disease is classified as a Parkinson syndrome because it bears a resemblance
Parkinson's disease. But both the symptoms and brain pathology are significantly
Welding fumes also contain high levels of manganese. But when a young
walked into Racette's office and said he was suffering from manganism,
knew something was fishy.
"Manganism is a very different disease. To me, this patient clearly
looked as if he
had Parkinson's disease," Racette said.
Welders who are genetically
predisposed to Parkinson's
disease could show symptoms
earlier because of their
profession (Photo courtesy
Trainum Safety Solutions)
He soon discovered a popular
belief that welding may lead to
Parkinson's disease. Material
data safety sheets even list the
disease as a possible hazard
But there is little scientific
evidence to back up the idea.
Racette and colleagues
therefore set out to determine whether welding is in fact an environmental
contributor to Parkinson's disease.
They identified 15 professional welders among patients in the school's
Disorders Center. Then they compared the welders' medical history and
symptoms with those of control Parkinson's disease patients.
The researchers found no clinical differences between the welders and
Parkinson's disease patients. The two groups had the same severity and
of symptoms and responded similarly to levodopa, a drug used to treat
The only statistically significant difference was average age of onset:
45 for the
welders, which is 15 years younger than for the control group.
Racette and his colleagues also imaged the brains of two of the welding
and 13 control patients. People with Parkinson's disease typically have
of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in certain regions of their brain.
Using a technique called fluorodopa positron emission tomography (FDOPA
the researchers determined how much dopamine the brain could take up.
that information, they assessed the extent of Parkinson like deterioration.
The FDOPA PET scans revealed no significant difference between the welding
control groups. The welders appeared to have typical Parkinson's disease,
Welding fumes contain high levels of manganese (Photo
courtesy Conestoga College)
"These results are really exciting because we may soon
be able to identify the first environmental cause of
Parkinson's disease," said Racette. "Our first goal is to
show that welding truly does cause this disease. Then we
can figure out which aspect of welding is responsible."
This information, Racette argues, will help determine
whether welders should take precautionary measures and
also will help researchers begin to unlock the underlying
cause of this debilitating disorder.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health,
the American Parkinson's Disease Association, the
Charles A. Dana Foundation and the McDonnell Center for
the Study of Higher Brain Function, is featured in the
January issue of the journal "Neurology" with an accompanying
In the editorial, Canadian neurologist Ali Rajput, M.B.B.S., F.R.C.P.C.,
search for environmental causes of Parkinson's disease to looking for
a needle in
"By narrowing the focus to one environmental group, Racette et
al. have chosen a
smaller stack and, therefore, have a greater chance of finding whether
there is a
needle or not," wrote Rajput.
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