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Welding Fumes Risk Factor For Lung Cancer

According to the annual KCIC 2019 Asbestos Litigation report, Madison County, Illinois remained the nation’s busiest jurisdiction for asbestos filings with “28 percent of all filings in the country, 1,150 last year, and a 41 percent increase in lung cancer filings.” [1] The number of lung cancer claims is rising in other jurisdictions as well, and it appears that this trend will most likely continue in the coming years.

Smoking has long been linked to lung cancer, but new research is providing evidence that welding fumes are another risk factor.[2]  Dr. Maria Garza Riccelli, a specialist in carcinogens at the University of Parma, Italy, in conjunction with colleagues at the Centre for Research in Toxicology at the University of Parma and the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Rome, conducted a study linking welding fumes to lung cancer while controlling for factors such as asbestos exposure and smoking.[3]  While pathology linking welding fumes to lung cancer was explored as early as 1988, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has only recently classified both mild steel and stainless steel welding fumes as Group I carcinogens. [4] Garza Riccelli and her colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of literature on respiratory diseases as well as an analysis of the interaction of welding fumes with the lungs of laboratory animals in conjunction with human studies.[5]

The ability of welding fume particles to adhere to the lungs depended on the size of the particle, the metal being welded, and the type of welding being performed. Much of the study focused on “nanoparticles”, their retention in the lung, and their capacity to wreak havoc once embedded there.[6] The research showed that welding fumes were a risk factor in the development of metal fume fever, siderosis, infectious pneumonia, fibrosis, asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis, and lung cancer.[7]  Their research also found that inhalation of welding fumes for a prolonged period of time could cause a form of pulmonary fibrosis similar to that presented during respiratory bronchiolitis and desquamative interstitial pneumonia. [8]

The study cited the IARC’s recent evaluation and conclusion that “there is sufficient evidence in humans that welding fumes cause lung cancer.”[9] The research further found that welders who worked primarily with stainless steel were at greater risk than mild steel but also noted that duration of exposure to welding fumes was important. [10] Welders who worked in the industry for more than 20 years had the greatest risk of exposure. [11] Importantly, the study recruited only welders who had no exposure to asbestos so as to isolate welding fumes as the potential cause for lung cancer.[12] The study concluded that exposure to welding fumes increases the risk of lung cancer. [13]  This analysis falls in line with other studies that have found “lung cancer risks in welders were observable at very low exposure levels.”[14]

This study provides useful insight into  a possible alternate exposure contributing to a lung cancer diagnosis since many plaintiffs in asbestos litigation worked as welders or spent significant time around welding.  Overall, a plaintiff’s career as a welder could come into play as a mitigating factor in defending an asbestos lung cancer case.

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Author:  Stephanie Lummus, St. Louis office

Article sources listed below.

[1]Report shows steady production of asbestos lawsuits in 2019.” Breslin, John. 13 April 2020 qtg. KCIC Asbestos Litigation: 2019 Year in Review.

[2]Welding Fumes, a Risk Factor for Lung Diseases.” Maria Grazia Riccelli et al. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 8 April 2020.

[3]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 2,3,17,18.

[4]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 2.

[5]  “Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 2-8.

[6]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 5.

[7]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 9.

[8]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 16

[9]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 16.

[10]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 16-17.

[11]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 17.

[12]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 17.

[13]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 22.

[14]Welding Fumes,” Grazia Riccelli et al. at 19.