Thursday, April 7, 2011

Exposure to welding fumes may lead to impaired brain function

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - Workers exposed to the metal manganese in welding fumes may be at increased risk of developing Parkinson’s-like symptoms, including loss of motor control and tremors.

That’s the finding of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, who compared brain scans of apparently healthy welders to those of Parkinson’s patients.

Washington University neurobiologist Susan Crisswell says the scans revealed that even though the welders seemed healthy, their brains had something in common with the Parkinson’s patients’: they both had trouble taking up dopamine, a chemical that helps brain cells communicate.

“The implication would be that we really need to take a close look at the kinds of exposures people are getting because it appears that there’s toxicity that happens even before you could see something on the outside,” Crisswell said.

Crisswell says the next step would be to re-examine the same manganese-exposed welders in three to five years, to see whether they develop symptoms.

“The big question is so what happens if you come and look at these same people three years down the line, or five years down the line, are they going to start to have symptoms, or would it be something that if you stopped welding or stopped the exposure that it resolved. And we don’t – we don’t know that, the answer to that question,” Crisswell said.

Close to half a million U.S. workers in welding-related jobs may be exposed to toxic levels of manganese.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio


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