As part of a Canada-wide study of women entering non-traditional trades [Women's Health in Apprenticeship Trades-Metalworkers and Electricians (WHAT-ME)], we examined spot urine samples from women welders in Alberta to determine whether urinary metal concentrations exceeded those of the general population, to compare levels to previously published urinary concentrations in male welders and to examine the relationship with welding tasks. Women mailed-in urine samples collected close to the time of completing a detailed exposure questionnaire, including welding tasks on their most recent day welding at work. Of 53 welders working in their trade, 45 had urinary creatinine >0.3-≤3.0g l(-1) and were included in analyses. Seven metals were examined for which both population and male welder urinary concentrations were available: cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel, and zinc. Principal component analysis was used to extract three components from natural log transformed creatinine-corrected metal concentrations. Of the 45 women, 17 reported more than one main task. Overall two thirds worked in fabrication, a third on pipe welding, and smaller numbers on repair, in construction or other tasks: manual metal arc welding was reported by 62%, semi-automatic arc welding by 47%, and arc welding with a tungsten electrode by 15%. In multiple regression analyses, little relation was found between urinary metals and task or type of welding, except for cadmium where lower levels were seen in those reporting semi-automatic manual welding (after adjustment for age and smoking). The proportion of women welders exceeding the selected general population 95th percentile was high for manganese (96%) and chromium (29%). Urinary metal concentrations were similar to those reported for male welders with only manganese, with a geometric mean in women of 1.91 µg g(-1) creatinine, and perhaps copper (11.8 µg g(-1) creatinine), consistently lower in male welders. Although not evident from the task analysis reported here, differences in exposure by sex may be explained by type of welding or by other work practices. A closely comparable cohort of male welders would be necessary to examine this hypothesis more fully.
Keywords: biomarkers of exposure; female; metal exposure; occupation; welding..
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society.