Welding smoke is definitely carcinogenic according to international researchers. This puts it into the same risk category as cigarette smoking and several radioactive substances like plutonium and components of deadly chromium IV.
Up until now, welding smoke has only been classified as “possibly” carcinogenic.
Increasing Risks of Welding Smoke
We’ve known for decades that welding smoke presents risks to those who are exposed to it. We have also known for some time that some welding materials and procedures are more toxic than others, with health effects ranging from simple irritations of the throat to cancer of the lungs and other organs.
Since the 1970s an increasing number of studies has shown that the risks of welding smoke particles and gases are greater than previously thought. Part of the problem is that almost all (as much as 98 percent) of the minute particles found in welding smoke are less than 0.5 µm in size, and can, therefore, enter the alveoli very easily. Once in these air sacs, they have the potential to change the genetic material contained therein.
Research Agency Reclassifies Welding Smoke Risk
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recently reviewed international research on welding smoke and its carcinogenic impacts. The Agency admits that the reason it previously classified welding smoke as just “possibly carcinogenic” was because there was:
- Limited evidence that related to human cause and effect
- Insufficient experimental animal evidence
On the other hand, the effects of UV radiation and its potential to cause cancer in humans has long been substantiated and there is absolutely no doubt that it is carcinogenic.
After comparing various studies relating to cancer and welding smoke, the IARC has categorized both UV radiation and welding smoke together as being carcinogenic to humans.
International researchers found that there is definitely an increased risk of lung cancer for both welders and others who are exposed to the surrounding environment. They also found that consuming tobacco and breathing asbestos dust was a factor for these employees. However, they couldn’t prove that tobacco and asbestos caused lung cancer, which led them to conclude that welding smoke is, in itself, carcinogenic.
Additionally, their studies revealed that the inevitable UV radiation caused by arc welding is a definite risk factor in terms of several rare types of eye cancer. Interestingly, while vision disorders like cataracts or cornea damage are not common in welders, they were identified in other employees in the welding workplace.
Another discovery the researchers mentioned was that there was a link between renal cancer and welding. While the evidence was limited, they reported that it was possible this was caused by the use of a solvent for metal-cleaning trichloroethylene. These findings were though inconclusive.
Ultimately, the IARC findings confirmed that not only is welding smoke carcinogenic but it is also capable of causing chronic infections and can damage the immune system. It was also found to be responsible for lung infections as well as infections linked to cardiopulmonary circulation.