Does Welding Cause Cancer? Here Are The Risks To Know

There are different welding techniques that industries follow, but most of them fall in the oxy-fuel or electric arc welding category. And welding causes several health hazards. 

But does welding cause cancer? Welding can certainly cause cancer, as it produces contaminants in UV radiations and fumes during both oxy-fuel and electric arc welding. These are Type 1 carcinogens, meaning they’re cancerous. 

Those regularly exposed to UV radiation and welding fumes are more likely to have cancer. Apart from cancer, they may also have the risk of developing melanoma in their eyes and lungs.

How Welding Increases The Risk Of Cancer

Many factors contribute to causing cancer during the welding process:

  • The type of welding method the labor is following.
  • The material that a person is welding, such as metal treatments or surface coatings.
  • Increasing contaminants like degreasers, solvent cleaners, and other welding vapors in the air.
  • Using shielding flux.
  • The power settings of the welding machine.
  • The place where the person is welding. If it is an enclosed space, the risks of having cancer are more.
  • The duration of the welding process. If someone is into welding for several hours a day, there are high chances that he/she will soon have cancer.

Welding Contaminants Causing Cancer

When you heat a metal above its boiling point, it emits welding fumes. But, after the metal cools down, there are fine particles from the material that mixes in the air. Labors usually breathe this air that leads to lung cancer. Although you may be able to identify some of the carcinogenic welding fumes, most of them are invisible to the naked eye. 

Back in 2017, all the welding fumes, both visible and invisible, were considered as Type 1 or Group 1 carcinogen. These fumes contain silicates, fluorides, metallic oxides, and cancer-causing agents that will sooner or later affect the body of the people in that factory. Some of the prevalent welding fumes that cause cancer are:

Cadmium Oxides

These are stainless steel alloys that contain zinc alloy, plated materials, and cadmium. It is one of the most dangerous fumes that contribute to carcinogens in the air.

Beryllium

This is a hardening agent often used in the welding process. Beryllium is found while welding aluminum alloys, magnesium, and copper. It is a widely popular carcinogen that is available in almost every place where welding is done.

Chromium

Chromium is often used as a plating material. You will see them mostly on high-alloy materials, stainless steel, and welding rods. Most forms of chromium found in welding are carcinogenic, especially hexavalent chromium.

Nickel

Nickel is also widely used in welding plated steel, welding rods, high-alloy materials, nickel-copper, stainless steel, and nickel-chromium. Experts believe all these increase cancer risks among the workers.

Different Welding Types Producing Different Cancerous Fumes

As already mentioned, there are different types of welding followed in various industries depending on the requirement. Problem is, whichever welding method you follow, it will produce some carcinogenic fumes. 

Ultraviolet Radiation

UV radiation is widely known as one of the most dangerous carcinogens. Laser welding and electric arc welding produce significant amounts of ultraviolet radiation. Workers are exposed to the direct UV rays produced by the electric arc. This radiation reflects on smooth and hard surfaces around them. 

So, it is not just a single ray that is increasing their risk of having cancer. Almost the entire room has ultraviolet radiations that cause not only skin cancer but also cataracts, eye damage, and sunburn. Some of these effects depend on the following factors:

  • The intensity of the ultraviolet radiation in the room. This also depends on what metal you are welding.
  • The welding method you are following. Electric arc welding produces more UV radiation than laser cutting or welding.
  • The distance from the welding machine to your body. 
  • The duration for which you are in the welding room.

Effects Of Welding Fumes

Different people experience different symptoms after being exposed to welding fumes for long periods. Some may fall ill every week while others may not produce any immediate symptoms but tend to run into the risk of potential danger in the next few years. Some of the effects of welding that you should be aware of are:

Cancer

According to IARC classification, welding fume is categorized as Group 1 carcinogen. Anyone exposed to these fumes for more prolonged periods every day will have high chances of having cancer. Although many experts say that the fumes associated with welding stainless steel are most dangerous, modern theory proves that all welding fumes are carcinogenic.

Lung And Throat Infection

These are the first symptoms of developing throat and lung cancer. The fine particles and welding fumes dry your throat quickly. This causes a tight chest that results in frequent coughing. You will be out of breath after coughing for a few minutes. Many patients also need inhalers to maintain regular breathing after one of these coughing sessions. Welding fumes contain nitrous oxides that cause pulmonary edema, which accumulates fluid in your lungs. 

Reduced Lung Functions

There is a significant difference between the lung functions of a regular person and someone who is in the welding industry for a long time. The latter tend to breathe in and breathe out heavily because of a tight chest. This happens due to prolonged exposure to carcinogenic welding fumes. You literally have to put more effort to breathe correctly. It is not an effortless process as regular people. The effects get worse if you are working for weeks at a stretch. 

Reduced lung function is not just a symptom of lung cancer, but it also results in occupational asthma. Breathing troubles, tight chest, and frequent coughs – all lead to asthma. Although it may go away if you stay away from welding for a few months, there is no guarantee that you won’t have lung or throat cancer later.

Scientific Findings

Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer compared different results of welding smoke to determine how dangerous the carcinogens are. They identified that the fumes are not only cancerous for welders, but also for all the surrounding employees working in the same factory. 

Two things play an essential role in triggering the effect of the carcinogenic fumes: 

  1. Consuming tobacco
  2. Breathing in asbestos

They have also come up with some safety laws to ensure that the adverse effects of welding do not threaten workers. 

Surface Preparation

Remove any coatings or paints from the surface before starting the welding process. It is wise to avoid chlorinated solvents to clean the welding area.

Consumables And Welding Process

Workers need to control power settings to avoid increased amounts of fumes. They should also choose consumables and a welding process that emits comparatively fewer fumes or UV rays. 

Gases And Welding Fumes

It is essential to combine a forced dilution ventilation process and local exhaust to control the amount of welding smoke in the room. Natural ventilation is not enough to deal with the carcinogenic fumes created during a welding process.

PPE

Workers should wear air purifying respiratory protection. This helps to filter the air particles that you would otherwise breathe in. Also, a welding helmet should be used with UV filtered lens. This will help to avoid the risks of eye damage. It is also best to wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers covering the entire skin to prevent adverse reactions of UV rays. 

Separate Space For Welding

The welding area should be isolated from all the other departments in the factory. This will not spread the carcinogenic fumes and will spare the other employees in the office. Many companies are also producing automated welding machines. This will reduce the risks of cancer among workers.

Rotational Jobs

Prolonged exposure to welding fumes causes cancer among workers. But, you can still reduce the chances if everyone rotates their job tasks. You need to share your work with others so that no one has to stay among the welding fumes for a long time. 

Additional Side Effects Of Welding

Cancer is the epitome of all diseases that may result from extended exposure to UV radiations from welding. Apart from cancer, asthma, and throat infections, the workers may also experience several other side effects:

Reduced Immunity

The contaminants present in the fumes are enough to cause metal fume fever. This is a dangerous disease that can also lead to the death of the person. Some other health problems that will reduce the overall immune system of the body are damage to the nervous system, kidney damage, and stomach ulcers. Ulcers are often considered the initial symptom of cancer. 

Suffocation

Throat infection leads to several breathing troubles, and suffocation is one of them. Carbon monoxide found in the fumes poses significant asphyxiation hazard.

Related Questions

Can welding cause skin cancer?

Welding can cause skin cancer. The UV radiation emitted during laser and electric arc welding can lead to not only skin cancer, but also welder’s flash (damage to the eyes), melanoma of the eyes, cataracts, and sunburn.

Can you file a lawsuit due to welding fumes?

You can file a lawsuit due to welding fumes. Breathing in welding fumes can result in a range of medical problems and difficulties. Some have insisted they’ve likely acquired Parkinson’s disease because of exposure to manganese.

Disclaimer: This article contains medical and legal information based on research and for informational purposes only. Please note that I am not a clinician or a legal consultant. If you have medical- or legal- related questions, please contact a professional. 

About Pierre Young

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Hey, I'm Pierre Young a qualified AWS Certified Welder. I got into welding in 2009 as a side hustle. Ever since then, I've been doing all kinds of welds - both for business and pleasure. While immersing myself in this wonderful hobby, I've learned from hands-on experience what welding gear works and what doesn't. Welding Headquarters is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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