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Asbestos Exposure on Welders

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Welders are exposed to a number of hazards on the job, including hot materials and the intensely bright light of the welder’s arc. To protect themselves, welders need protective clothing. Many welders in earlier decades wore asbestos-lined gloves, asbestos-lined aprons or curtains to shield them from the showers of sparks, hot slag and metal chips. Unfortunately, the protective clothing as it ages and becomes more brittle can release asbestos fibers. Many welders are likely to have been exposed to asbestos dust, and the risk is even greater for those who worked in confined spaces. Inhaling asbestos is associated with mesothelioma, a life-threatening respiratory cancer.

Welders and Asbestos

Welding joins pieces of metal by heat and pressure. The smoke from welding and hot work consists of gases and very fine particles, including asbestos fibers.  An estimated 500,000 welders are employed in a number of industries, such as shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and repair, aerospace, construction, utilities and oil refineries. Asbestos was widely used as insulation and fireproofing in shipbuilding and other industrial settings because of its durability and resistance to heat. Many of the industries that employ welders have an elevated incidence of mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease.

In addition to asbestos gloves and asbestos blankets, some welding rods were coated with a mixture containing 5 percent to 15 percent asbestos. The asbestos fibers may be released during the heating of the rod.

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine identified welding among the occupations at high risk of developing mesothelioma, based on workplace exposure to asbestos. Occupational exposure to asbestos is the most important risk factor for pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung. If you worked as a welder in the 1960s or 1970s, you may only recently have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos-related disease because of the long latency period of the disease.

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