Mixed Metal Exposure and Neurological Function in Welders

Research Trainee: Eric J. Ward, MS, PhD Student in Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at Purdue University

Faculty Researcher: Frank S. Rosenthal, PhD, Associate Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at Purdue University

Welding is a common industrial process that employs an estimated two million welders worldwide. Welding fume is mainly composed of essential metals (Mn, Cu, Fe, and Zn) and non-essential metals (Pb). Welders are continually exposed to respirable metal fume while welding. Since, the respirable welding fume is capable of penetrating deep in to the alveoli of the lungs and entering the blood stream, it is imperative to understand which of the metals in the fume have an effect on the body or modify the uptake of a particular metal, which may have a negative effect on the body, especially neurological function. It is also important to have a validated biomarker of exposure, which can be utilized to determine the degree of exposure and that may act as indicator to potential health problems.

Our study was able to show that toenails are not only a good biomarker of welding fume exposure, but also act as indicator of neurological (cognition and motor) function. Further research is still needed to confirm our results; however, the ability to use a toenail clipping as a biomarker of exposure and neurological function would be of great importance not only to researchers but also to policy makers as toenail metal levels may be used to set standards that protect worker health.

Project Abstract