Workers exposed to welding fumes may be at increased risk of damage to the same brain area harmed by Parkinson's disease, according to a new study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Fumes produced by welding contain manganese, an element that scientists have linked to neurological problems including Parkinson's disease-like symptoms.
The study involved 20 welders with no symptoms of Parkinson's disease, recruited from two shipyards and a metal fabrication company. Each had an average of 30,000 hours of lifetime welding exposure. The welders' average blood manganese levels were found to be two times the upper limits of normal blood manganese levels established in prior studies of general populations. Brain scans and motor skills tests showed changes in the welders, compared to two control groups.
"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," says the study author. "MRI scans also revealed brain changes in welders that were consistent with manganese deposits in the brain."
Researchers plan a larger follow-up study to clarify the potential links between welding and brain damage.