How bad are welding fumes?

OT: Sandbox YAK | Welding

Welding suit begins; men claim fumes caused illness Wednesday, November 01, 2006 Mike Tobin Plain Dealer Reporter

The second lawsuit in six months against welding-rod makers began on Tuesday in federal court in Cleveland with lawyers again arguing over who is to blame for neurological problems suffered by welders. In a lawsuit that is being watched closely by the welding industry, two South Carolina men sued five companies, including Euclid-based Lincoln Electric Holdings, claiming the fumes released by welding rods the businesses manufactured caused the men to get sick. About 3,800 similar cases from across the country were consolidated in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. Judge Kathleen O'Malley presided over the first case, and the second is also in her court.

Welding suit begins; men claim fumes caused illness

So, I've been a metalworker for over 25 years. Included within this time was a 7 year stint welding in the nuclear industry. Heck, there were times I welded inside of tunnels that were 100 feet or so underground and you could not stand up straight because the concrete walls had a three foot clearance. These were the pipe tunnels, and I was with a group of welders called "the tunnel rats." There was always a smell of burnt rod in the tunnels. I would go home with the smell of welding rods impregnated in my clothes. The tunnel job lasted for 9 straight months. Oh yea, there were some exhaust fans, but I know they couldn't have been enough. But I didn't complain cause all the other welders seemed fine with it.

Now would my situation be considered negligence on my part? Was there actually enough ventilation provided? Were the warnings given by the welding rod manufacturers sufficient? Should I be concerned that I too will get Parkinsons or manganism - a neurological disorder with symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease in the future? This lawsuit is bringing up some interesting discussions. What kind of welding experience have you had? Are you sick, or feel that just maybe, all those welding fumes are going to have an effect on your health?

Who's responsibility is it anyway to be alerted to possible health hazards used in welding?

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Alex in Welderland's picture

I personally use a supplied

I personally use a supplied air mask whenever I weld. Even outside. I think the fumes affect different people differently. I, myself, feel the effects even after a few minutes, and I feel the possible risk and permanent future discomfort is worth the annoying discomfort of a supplied air mask now.

I do not know the real risks. I have asked doctors and they just stare at me.

Safety is paramount in this industry. And I think the biggest concerns are those things that we cannot see. I just do not see anything, even $ justifying the risk so many welders take.

browbrew's picture

Welding fumes

I don't use stick too often. Although for all welding I have installed a squirrel cage fan with a snorkel tube to draw the fumes away. The squirrels have never had any problems with the fumes that I know of. ;-)


Valerie Rock's picture


I posted a long reply under a separate topic heading (welding fumes) within the welding site here.

As to "who is responsible" for safety on the job? It comes right down to the individual before and during the work, really. True, you can sue after the job but what does that really do for your health? You were already exposed, now you have the hassle of the health issue as well as a long-drawn out court experience. Not healthy!


webminster's picture

I agree that is the

I agree that is the individuals responsibility. However, many welders work under questionable circumstances and feel that if they complain about the fumes to their employers, that they maybe ridiculed or possibly even fired. So, I think that employers should be held responsible for not only providing literature about the possible hazards, but also actively pursue adequate ventilation for welders working in confined spaces.

Your article on Metal Fumes is a great reference read for welders. Everyone working in the welding field should be familiar with possible exposure to dangerous chemicals in the work space. 

Valerie Rock's picture


You're right. It really is the employer's responsibility as far as the liability issue. And there are all sorts of rules on this. And court of law, etc. Insurance companies are getting tough on companies and mandating that they are more pro-active (preventative) in terms of safety.

But on a day to day basis, real-world, I consider my own self to be the one who is ultimately responsible for my health and safety.

There are metal fume masks available that will take care of all the welding fumes. They are disposable and cost $60 for 10 of them. Perhaps a bit more expensive now. Individually packaged, though, at a home-mechanic supply company, they will be 2-3 times that cost.

Since there have been several questions on health and safety, I will put up some good info and resources here soon. Will get permission to link to my favorite suppliers.


ChrisG's picture

Victor has a handy MSDS

Victor has a handy MSDS listing.

Emfairmeadows's picture

3M Welding Respirators

I welded through my three pregnancies, but I consulted a doctor before continuing to weld. I was told to contact the respirator company and describe what kind of work I did so that the respirator I used was appropriate for the kinds of fumes, dust that I would be dealing with.

3M makes respirators that protect from fumes and welding odors. That really helped during periods of morning sickness. Now, I use 3M-8212.

I was also told to shower as soon as possible after welding to remove any metals that might be absorbed through my skin.

Unfortunately, the end user is usually more motivated to find the safety equipment for themselves than an employer.

Elizabeth M. Meadows
Mother, Metal Sculptor in that order.

"Gotta love a gal with an anvil."
-Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

webminster's picture

my hands turn into verde patina

"I was also told to shower as soon as possible after welding to remove any metals that might be absorbed through my skin."

Never heard of that one Elizabeth. I know lots of stinky welders that sure don't concern themselves with immediate showers after welding all day. I wonder just how true the facts are of absorbing metals through the skin...

You know I've heard of people drinking water from copper cups to gain the healing benefits of copper absorption by ingestion. And I've seen my hands turn into verde patina when working/grinding copper, but I've never associated these things as being harmful.

You got me wondering now! Sealed

Rick Crawford's picture

Copper in the diet?

My wife wears a copper armband all the time. (Her wrist is usually green. ha!) I have one also, but cannot wear it more than about 3-4 weeks at a time because I start having a real dry feeling in my mouth. I know then, that it is time to stop wearing it. I will have it off for several months then, while I recover. We each have different tolerances and needs for things, I guess.

Rick Crawford at Smoky Forge

Emfairmeadows's picture

Metals and the skin

"Certain metals, and many metal-based compounds, are inherently toxic, and their presence in occupational and environmental settings raises appropriate questions concerning human exposure. Search on the internet for "metals and the skin" and you'll find some heavy reading on toxicity of metals that may be absorbed through the skin. My ultrasound doc was a genetics specialist who had some knowledge of occupational hazards that affect could potentially affect a fetus. I really believe that it's best to keep as much of my self covered while I weld recycled metals because I don't know what's on the metals, what it sat in at the scrap yard before I got to it, etc...While pregnant you are constantly made aware of what you do potentially affecting the child in utero. "No drinking, no smoking, no x-rays (unless it's an ultrasound) etc." Better to be over cautious, I think. I used to work as a metal finisher in a sign company. We used large amounts of acetone to remove fingerprints or stains from the finished metals. Some folks worked bare handed. All you have to do is read the warning label to understand that certain chemicals pass through the skin to your nervous system. I'm not a fan of chemicals. That's why I'm an organic gardener. We are exposed to a broad spectrum of chemicals in our food, our water, the air everyday. Why risk more exposure doing something I love? Getting off my soapbox for now;) Elizabeth M. Meadows Mother, Metal Sculptor in that order. "Gotta love a gal with an anvil." -Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Valerie Rock's picture

I agree with you on that

I agree with you on that "Why risk more exposure doing something I love?"

I do organic gardening although it is not certified as such. I revel in the idea of the exquisitely fine nutrients that are coming from the ground, into the vegetable, into me. And I thank the plant and tell it that it will be living on and appreciated even in the wintertime.


visitor's picture


i am pregnant and start school on december third to be certified. I was wondering if there is any dangers.
Please contact me at

Thanks any info is good.

visitor's picture

Welding while Pregnet

Your comment was very helpful for me I have been welding for about a year and I just found out that Im pregnet and I was very concerned about welding and the light. Im only 6 weeks I have not been welding because I am recovering from a broken foot, I will be going out on the floor in 2 days. I feel better now that I know its ok. I will be going to my first doctors apointment on April 1st.
Thanks again

visitor's picture


I am 16 weeks pregnant. As I work in the construction industry, I was around the welders for 2 days. As it was an open section I tried not to get too close to them but I am still really worried that it was dangerous to my baby. anyone know anything about it, I want to know if there was a danger to my baby? I am so scared.

Rich Waugh's picture

Obviously, the best person

Obviously, the best person to answer this question is your ob/gyn doctor who is already familiar with your health situation. That said, I seriously doubt that two days exposure to moderate levels of welding fumes is going to cause any problems to your baby. You said it was an open area, so the good ventilation should have reduced exposure levels to a minimum. Still, your doctor is your best source of information - only he/she knows your whole situation and health history.

Worrying is bad for you and your baby. Try not to do that, okay?


visitor's picture

Thanks you very much for

Thanks you very much for your advice.

Emfairmeadows's picture

Employer responsibility

If an employer fires an employee for requesting safety equipment, they open themselves up to the possibility of a lawsuit. OSHA exists so that employees can report unsafe work environments, so that no one is injured at work.

The employer will be closed down and fined if the safety situation is not rectified within a reasonable period of time.

Elizabeth M. Meadows
Mother, Metal Sculptor in that order.

"Gotta love a gal with an anvil."
-Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

simmsie's picture

welding fumes

I've always been pretty cavalier about wearing a mask when welding or grinding, being a natural born risk taker.

However, just about a month ago I discovered I had a large cancerous tumor perched atop my left kidney! I had kidney and tumor surgically removed and now feel great. No prior symptoms other than peeing blood for a couple of days.

The question remains as to whether grinding or breathing fumes had anything to do with the cancer?

I will be more careful now!

web site:

visitor's picture

welding fumes

By now my cumulative exposures are enormous i'm sure.
I've had severe metal fume fever 3 times ( it can get real vivid!). The tremor in my hands is irritating/frustrating sometimes.
I did not volunteer for the year i spent in cancer treatment.
Alex is correct in wearing a positive pressure mask when welding...especially for stick and MIG,plasma cutting, and anything with zinc (galv or brass).
A welding fume filter helps but doesn't take out a lot of nasty stuff.
The need for a particle filter also extends to grinding, sanding, buffing.
We are talking about stuff that collects and stays in your lungs and cuts off oxygen bit by bit.
I've a collection of old filter mask elements that eventually will cover a wall...they look nasty, real graphic!
For years i never bothered...never expected to live this long...shining it on was a stupid mistake.
But; I'm not quite dead yet..wish all of you the same...grin....pete fels

visitor's picture

Welding fumes

The tunnel rat welding made me choke.

Like the statistical data that links smoking to lung cancer, some smokers have better genes and don't get lung cancer. Metal oxides in welding fumes aren't supposed to be healthy either. I read somewhere that there is a high statistical link between Parkinson's Disease (PD) and professional welders. It is easy for me to believe, as I know a few retired welders that have PD.

visitor's picture

skin, & absorption

I'm no doctor, but to all those who doubt what your skin might allow into your body -- don't forget that your skin is your largest organ, and the one that interfaces your body with your environment. The skin BREATHES, and also breathes in plenty from your environment. I've been at events where people start to feel sick after being body-painted with latex paint -- their skin could no longer breathe and their body was essentially asphyxiating. Looked nice, but felt bad...
(that was burning man, yes)



jolly roger's picture

NIOSH on welding fumes

NIOSH considers all welding fumes to be carcinogens. The neurological effects and bone and joint damage are still under study.

I have been around welding all my life and began learning how at the age of 8 using a torch, by 10 I was using electrodes and at 15 I could run the truck by myself (yes my dad owned the company so I had no choice). I am one year shy of 40 years in this now. Well the 8 years in the army don't count since I figured out real quick it was best I kept my skills to myself.

That said I know a lot of old welders and almost all of them have shaky hands (possibly parkinson's, but then again my granddad had that and he was a carpenter and farmer and never welded anything). They also tend to have a lot of joint problems. I started having bone problems in my early twenties and was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease at 30. Degenerative disc disease was added a few years ago as well. I also have this 'skin' ??? condition that has been hanging around for 17 years now that the doctors can't even put a name on, but they think it is the result of chemical exposure. That made it's appearance while I was in the army so who knows the source. Some of these things are very common in welders after years of exposure, others aren't, but it has had me thinking for years now wondering if the fumes from welding may be part of the cause. Personally I rank welding fumes right up there with cigarette smoke, coal dust and paint fumes.

visitor's picture

The health concerns aren't worth it....Even if it does pay well

I just read everyones comments on the health issues with welding and have decided to back out of a fully payed for pre- apprenticeship program at the University of Guelph. I felt at the time it was a great opportunity but just found out that I'm pregnant. I think the health concerns seem very serious long and short term, especially to the baby inside me. I just quit smoking cigs and taking a welding course seems like it would undermind my decision to eat healthy, take my vitamins and quit dirty habits. I will not put my baby at risk . Thank you for all the information and I respect the jobs that you do but it just isn't for me. Thanks. Peace out Jamie