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Welders and Mesothelioma

Welders and Exposed Asbestos

Historical Background of the Welding Trade

The first welders by trade were called actually called blacksmiths. They would frequently work with fusing pieces of metal together that were first heated to a very high temperature and then pounded together. In the early 1900's significant technological advances were made in the blacksmith trade and the name changed to welding. Welders today are still responsible for fusing metal parts together but they work in many different industry sectors such as construction, auto & truck manufacturing, airplane manufacturing and shipbuilding. The applications they work on can also be much bigger in size, scope and complexity compared to the types of work that blacksmiths engaged in. Today there are many different types of welding performed including arc welding, resistance welding, energy beam welding, soldering and others.

Welders were Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

Welders were faced with a serious risk of exposure to asbestos while on the job. Preferred for its insulating ability, strength and heat resistance, asbestos was commonly used in insulation, sealing compounds and heat resistant protective gear. In the late 1970's, asbestos was found to cause various forms of cancer and pulmonary disease and thus became a less frequently used material for insulating and fire-proofing.

The very nature of the work welders performed often required them to use products that contained asbestos. The most common among these products were welding rods that both contained asbestos and were coated with asbestos. In the welding process, welders would generate a type of dust or smoke. This dust was in actuality small particles of the metal being welded which in many instances included asbestos, nickel and chromium. Inhaling this substance was extremely harmful to welders and most, because they were not aware of the health risks, did not wear proper protective gear. When the welding was finished, the second step in the process involved grinding down extraneous welding matter which also forced harmful dust particles into the air. Both Lincoln Electric Company and Hobart Brothers Company admitted to manufacturing welding rods with asbestos.

Even in instances where protective gear might have been worn the gear itself may have posed health risks. In some cases the clothes or protective wear contained asbestos to make them fire-proof and heat resistant. Welders often wore gloves made with asbestos and used asbestos blankets to ward off high levels of heat. If any of these garments became worn, asbestos fibers could easily be released into the air and welders were once again at risk of inhaling harmful asbestos fibers.

Welders at Risk to Develop Mesothelioma

As mentioned above, by the late 1970's a strong link was discovered between asbestos exposure and asbestos diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Both welders and their families were at risk for developing one of these diseases. The welders were at risk due to the very nature of their work. Families were also at risk because they were susceptible to second hand exposure from asbestos dust and fibers brought home on the welder's clothes and hair.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer most commonly diagnosed as malignant pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma involves the lining in and around the lungs. Other less frequently diagnosed forms of mesothelioma are peritoneal mesothelioma (involves stomach lining) and pericardial mesothelioma (involves lining around the heart). The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos inhalation.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer can definitely be related to asbestos exposure. Smoking combined with asbestos exposure significantly increases the chances of developing lung cancer where malignant tumors form in the lungs making it difficult to breathe.

Lung cancer can take ten years or more to develop after initial extended exposure to asbestos. Even worse, mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis can take 30 or 40 years to show symptoms which often include: difficult and painful breathing, a harsh cough and chest pain. A favorable mesothelioma prognosis is not common, and life expectancy with the disease is usually no more than 18 months.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari