Manganism (AKA welder’s-disease) is another name for a collection of symptoms that result from excessive manganese exposure. Manganism has also been called “Parkinson’s syndrome” because its symptoms closely resemble those of Parkinson’s disease, a devastating and fatal neurological illness. Manganism is also called welder’s-disease because of the high incidence in welders and those exposed to the fumes from welding rods.
Incredibly, the health effects of welding and associated manganese exposure have been known for more than 150 years. In 1837, scientists described manganism as a syndrome similar to Parkinson’s disease. These first cases of manganism, welder’s-disease, appeared in Scottish workers exposed to high levels of dust while grinding “black oxide of manganese” in a chemical plant. Since then, manganism, welder’s-disease, has been described in several groups of highly exposed miners and other workers. (Iregren, 1999)
In 1993, the National Institute of Health (NIH) issued a report about manganism, welder’s-disease, manganese poisoning. According to the NIH, “Occupational exposure to manganese for periods from 6 months to 2 years can result in manganism, a disease of the central nervous system characterized by psychogenic and neurological disorders with symptoms resembling Parkinson’s disease.” The NIH report also noted that prolonged manganese exposure had been connected to reduced white blood cell counts, sexual dysfunction and impotence.
To understand welder’s-disease (also known as manganism), it helps to understand manganese toxicity. Manganese is one of the most commonly used metals in manufacturing. Although used in several industrial applications, manganese does not occur naturally, but is actually a component of more than 100 minerals, including sulfides, oxides, carbonates, silicates, phosphates and borates. In small amounts, manganese is a necessary element for maintaining good health, including the proper development of growing children. In excessive amounts, however, manganese becomes toxic. Women who are pregnant, or who think they might be pregnant, should avoid manganese exposure at the work place (Gerber, et al 2002).
In the human body, manganese is concentrated mainly in the liver, skeleton, pancreas and brain. Small amounts of manganese are beneficial for human health, and have been shown to have potentially beneficial effects for patients with epilepsy. Manganese has also shown promise in alleviating menstrual symptoms and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, too much manganese exposure is harmful. Exposure in the levels experienced by welders and nearby workers is unhealthy and dangerous.
Manganese should not be confused with Magnesium, a mineral that is essential for human nutrition.
Who is at risk for welding rod manganism, welder’s-disease?
Recent manganism, welder’s-disease, research has focused on the welding rod industry. Welders are apparently at a greater risk of manganese poisoning than most. Thus, manganism is also known as welder’s-disease or welding rod disease. However, welding rod use is not the only potential source of manganese exposure. Other workers may also be at risk of manganism. In addition to welding, on-the-job exposure to manganese occurs mainly in mining, alloy production, processing, ferro-manganese operations, and work with agrochemicals (Levy & Nassetta, 2003).
Manganese also enters the air from iron, steel and power plants, coke ovens and from dust in mining operations. Those who are at the greatest risk of this airborne exposure again include welders, along with railroad workers, miners, steel workers, and those who handle pesticides containing maneb and mancozeb. This list is not conclusive, and there are other groups that may be affected. Contact a qualified medical professional for an evaluation if you feel that you have been poisoned by manganese exposure.
Additional research suggests that men may be at greater risk of manganism than women, although effects were also observed in women (Mergler, et al 1999). Men’s risk may be greater because they are more likely to have a job that exposes them to higher levels of manganese. Most welders, construction workers and other people in jobs that place them at risk for manganism are men. Obvious symptoms may not develop until after age 50; however, subtle, less noticeable symptoms of manganism may also appear in individuals who are younger and who have experienced prolonged, low-level exposure to manganese.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a paper connecting manganese poisoning to Parkinson’s-like manganism; asthenia, insomnia, mental confusion; metal fume fever, dry throat, coughing, tight chest; dyspnea, rales, flu-like fever; lower-back pain, vomiting, malaise and fatigue.