Background: Approximately one million workers worldwide perform welding as part of their work duties. Electric arc welding processes produce metal fumes and gases which may be harmful to exposed workers.
Methods: This review summarizes human and animals studies which have examined the effect of welding fume exposure on respiratory health. An extensive search of the scientific and occupational health literature was performed, acquiring published articles which examined the effects of welding on all aspects of worker and laboratory animal health. The databases accessed included PubMed, Ovid, NIOSHTIC, and TOXNET.
Results: Pulmonary effects observed in full-time welders have included metal fume fever, airway irritation, lung function changes, susceptibility to pulmonary infection, and a possible increase in the incidence of lung cancer. Although limited in most cases, animal studies have tended to support the findings from epidemiologic studies.
Conclusions: Despite the numerous studies on welding fumes, incomplete information still exists regarding the causality and possible underlying mechanisms associated with welding fume inhalation and pulmonary disease. The use of animal models and the ability to control the welding fume exposure in toxicology studies could be utilized in an attempt to develop a better understanding of how welding fumes affect pulmonary health.