Welders face numerous dangers when carrying out their jobs, like burns from fire and molten materials. To add to these existing worries, recent studies have revealed the increased risk of severe illness from exposure to welding fumes, and have defined these fumes as a known carcinogen. One 2019 study that came to this conclusion found that frequent exposure to welding fumes increased the risk of lung cancer regardless of welding material or technique.
How are these dangerous fumes produced? The fumes that often cause lung cancer in welders are generated when metals are exposed to extreme heat, raising the temperature of the metal to above its melting point. This causes the material to release vapors into the air. These vapors are made up of tiny (but solid) particles of metal, which are then inhaled by the welder. Though different metals can produce different fumes, the fumes generated by welding stainless steel, nickel compounds and chromium, are known to cause cancer in those exposed to them.
Welders should be properly trained on the risks of welding the materials they are working with. This allows welders to better understand how to prevent illness as a result of exposure.
Welding surfaces should be wiped clean of residues that could cause toxic fumes.
Welders can position themselves in ways that limit direct exposure to harmful fumes.
Proper ventilation of the welding area can reduce the amount of vapors present, therefore reducing the volume of fumes that can be inhaled.
Manufacturers can consider using materials that are less toxic to welders.
In environments where substitution or ventilation are not an option, welders should wear respirator masks to prevent vaporized carcinogenic materials from entering their lungs.