When a metal is heated above the boiling point, fumes are formed. They are a mixture of fluorides, metallic oxides, silicates, and other harmful contaminants.
With countless studies, welding fumes are considered carcinogenic. In the 1970s, they were believed to be safe as the health hazard was still unknown. The research was also limited.
Years had passed, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that exposure to welding fume could cause cancer.
Types of Cancer You Can Get After Prolonged Exposure to Welding Fumes
Welding fumes are carcinogenic. But what types of cancer people may have when exposed to these contaminants, though? Here are some of them:
Tobacco use, family history, and previous radiation therapy are the common risk factors for lung cancer.
Exposure to welding fumes is another prevalent factor. Scientists who examined data from approximately 45 published studies found that people who work as welders are 43% more likely to have lung cancer.
When researchers assessed the data from studies for asbestos and smoking exposure, welding was still linked to around 17% risk of lung cancer.
Epidemiological evidence also points to an increased lung cancer risk, especially welding professionals that handle stainless steel. Wedding fumes from stainless steel contain high chromium VI and nickel content, according to experts.
In the early stages, there are no signs. But when the condition progresses, patients may experience a frequent cough, chest infections, painful breathing, persistent breathlessness, loss of appetite, lack of energy, and drastic weight loss.
The symptoms still vary from person to person.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), welding fumes can lead to cancer in the larynx.
Drinking excessive alcohol content and smoking tobacco products are the top causes of laryngeal cancer.
Research also finds welding fumes responsible.
Symptoms are cough, sore throat, painful ears, a lump in the throat, and hoarseness.
To diagnose laryngeal cancer, different procedures and tests are employed. Usually, physicians conduct a physical exam of the neck and throat. But it is not as effective as biopsy, CT scan, barium swallow, bone scan, PET (positron emission tomography) scan, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiosensitizers, and radiation therapy.
Damage Urinary Tract and Kidney
OSHA also notes that an extended period of exposure to welding fumes can damage the urinary tract and kidneys.
Approximately 37 million adults in the US live with a kidney problem, but they do not know about it.
Signs of kidney damage are extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, dry skin, frequent urination, blood in the urine, persistent puffiness, swollen ankles, poor appetite, and frequent cramps.
What Are the Risks?
Several factors increase your risks to welding fumes. These can be your welding technique, metal treatments, surface coatings, contaminants in the air, length of welding time, power settings, and ventilation.
Certain contaminants like nickel, beryllium, chromium, and cadmium oxides will also put your life in danger.
Beryllium, for example, is a known carcinogen. Cadmium oxides are only suspected, while some forms of chromium are proven to cause cancers.
Importance of Wearing PPE
One protective gear welders do wear is a PPE as hazards can range from UV radiation, broken toes, burns, cuts to shocks.
The best way for welding professionals to stay safe is to use protection from head to toe, according to the American Welding Society and OSHA.
What Are the Other Safety Gear to Wear During Welding Sessions
There are different materials welders use. To prevent any serious eye injuries, helmets and safety glasses are recommended.
What type of helmets and safety glasses should you invest in? When choosing a helmet, it should have enough lens shade number as it plays a significant role in preventing eye damage from UV radiation.
For the safety goggles, they must be compliant with the ANSI Standard Z87. While it is enticing to invest in something cheaper, always purchase brands that offer excellent value.
What else? For full-body protection, it is vital to have boots, gloves, and welding jackets.
For jackets, leather is expert-recommended as it provides protection on a different level. But it is too uncomfortable to wear.
Alternatively, you can try cotton jackets. But make sure it is fire-resistant and durable.
Boots, on the other hand, should be compliant with the ASTM F 2413. Generally, they are made of various materials. The leather boots with steel toes and rubber soles will be your best bet.
For gloves, there are also options to opt for. While the vast selection can be an advantage, it is confusing to deal with. You can never go wrong with leather, metal mesh, or canvas gloves.
Are You Working as a Welder?
Working as a welder is a career you should be proud of, but during welding sessions, your health and safety should be your number one priority. Wear every possible PPE for your peace of mind! Plus, do not forget to use a welding fume extractor.