Exploring a new method for the assessment of metal exposure by analysis of exhaled breath of welders

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2022 Aug;95(6):1255-1265. doi: 10.1007/s00420-022-01833-z. Epub 2022 Jan 23.


Purpose: Air monitoring has been the accepted exposure assessment of toxic metals from, e.g., welding, but a method characterizing the actual dose delivered to the lungs would be preferable. Sampling of particles in exhaled breath can be used for the biomonitoring of both endogenous biomarkers and markers of exposure. We have explored a new method for the sampling of metals in exhaled breath from the small airways in a study on welders.

Methods: Our method for particle sampling, Particles in Exhaled Air (PExA®), is based on particle counting and inertial impaction. We applied it on 19 stainless steel welders before and after a workday. In parallel, air monitoring of chromium, manganese and nickel was performed as well as blood sampling after work.

Results: Despite substantial exposure to welding fumes, we were unable to show any significant change in the metal content of exhaled particles after, compared with before, exposure. However, the significance might be obscured by a substantial analytical background noise, due to metal background in the sampling media and possible contamination during sampling, as an increase in the median metal contents were indicated.

Conclusions: If efforts to reduce background and contamination are successful, the PExA® method could be an important tool in the investigations of metals in exhaled breath, as the method collects particles from the small airways in contrast to other methods. In this paper, we discuss the discrepancy between our findings and results from studies, using the exhaled breath condensate (EBC) methodology.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Exhaled breath; Exposure; Metals; Small airways; Welding.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational* / analysis
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Exhalation
  • Humans
  • Metal Workers
  • Metals / analysis
  • Occupational Exposure* / analysis
  • Welding* / methods


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Biomarkers
  • Metals