Impact of Welding Material and Exposure Controls on Manganese Exposure and Olfactory Function: A Natural Experiment

Faculty Researcher: Ellen M. Wells, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Purdue University

Wells-Headshot

Professor Wells

Elevated exposure to manganese may result in cognitive and motor function impairments. Welders are at high risk of manganese exposure, as manganese is present in welding fumes. While it is known that welders tend to have elevated manganese exposure, it is less clear how factors in the welding process – such as the type of material being welded – may influence the amount of manganese welders may be exposed to. Therefore, the goal for our research is to determine whether welding with a metal that contains twice as much manganese as the typical metals would result in elevated exposure to manganese and increased health impacts. We completed a cross-sectional study of 18 welders and 16 non-welders from a trailer manufacturing facility where some manufacturing lines were recently switched to using this new high manganese metal.

ELPI Field Setup

Field setup of the ELPI instrument used to collect real-time particle distribution data, June 2016. Photo Credit: Mahmoud Nour

Preliminary results indicate that welders have higher manganese exposure compared to nonwelders and that welders of the new, high-manganese metal, have higher air exposures to manganese compared to other welders. Blood concentrations of a protein which binds metals was also higher among welders compared to non-welders, which may be a mechanism the body uses to reduce manganese toxicity, because bound metal is unable to interact with other molecules. We plan on conducting additional laboratory analysis and determine what the average size of the particles resulting from welding in the near future.

Project Abstract