Are Welders at more risk of brain damage?

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A recent US study has shown that there may be an increased risk for workers exposed to welding fumes of going on the develop brain damage. The fumes produced by welding contain manganese, and this is the element which scientists believe could be linked to neurological problems and Parkinsons-like symptoms.

Brain damage links to WeldersThe research was carried out at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis where 20 welders were recruited from two shipyards and a metal fabrication company. These 20 welders had no symptoms of Parkinsons. The study also tested 40 more people - 20 were not welders but had Parkinsons and 20 were not welders and did not have Parkinsons.

All 60 were put through a battery of tests including brain scans, motor skills tests and blood tests. The welders’ blood test results revealed levels of manganese at twice the upper limits of normal blood manganese levels. The welders’ brain scans also showed a marked reduction in the chemical dopamine, with decreased dopamine also being a symptom seen in people with Parkinsons disease. The welders’ motor skills showed mild difficulties with movement.

"In the United States alone, there are more than 1 million workers who perform welding as a part of their jobs," says Brad Racette, MD, professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine. "If further investigation of this potential link between neurotoxic effects and these fumes proves it is valid, it would have a substantial public-health impact for the U.S. workforce and the economy."

"While these changes in the brain may be an early marker of neuron death related to welding exposure, the damage appeared to be different from those of people with full-fledged Parkinson's disease," Racette says. "MRI scans also revealed brain changes in welders that were consistent with manganese deposits in the brain."

Racette and his colleagues plan a larger follow-up study to clarify the potential links between welding and brain damage.


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