Parkinson’s disease (PD) is caused
by the loss of cells from a very specific area of the brain.
The decrease of these cells causes a sharp decrease in one of
the main chemicals in the brain, dopamine, which is responsible
for communication between brain cells. PD is a fairly common
disease of the nervous system, occurring in 1 out of 500 people
in the United States, usually in middle or older ages. The illness
causes a tremor of the hands and legs, stiffness and slowness
of the muscles and a shuffling walk. Many people with PD remain
sharp mentally, but some develop significant memory problems.
PD progresses, but usually slowly. Fortunately, treatment for
PD exists to help control symptoms, though no cure is yet available.
Remarkably little is known about what causes PD. It sometimes
runs in families, but most people with PD have no family history
of the illness. There has been much recent interest in possible
occupational and environmental causes. It has been known for over
150 years that chronic exposure to the metal manganese causes manganism,
a set of symptoms that include the symptoms of PD in addition to
emotional problems such as depression and/or over-excitement. Chronic
manganese poisoning has occurred in a wide variety of workplaces
where manganese dust and fumes appear, including mines, smelters,
foundries, and farms where manganese-containing pesticides may
Welders have ample opportunity for exposure
to manganese. They may use manganese-coated welding rods and/or
burn ferromanganese alloy steel. This opportunity for exposure
to manganese certainly can lead to chronic manganese exposure
and raises the issue of the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
A recent study published in the prestigious journal, Neurology,
studied 15 welders with Parkinson’s disease and found that
such welding-associated cases did not differ from other people
with PD without a known cause except that the welders were younger.
This suggests that welding was responsible for the PD.
Other occupational and environmental causes of
PD are also being studied. Many studies have shown that agricultural
workers have an increased risk of PD, raising the issue of pesticides
inducing PD. A recent Italian study showed that workers with hydrocarbon
exposure had increased risk of PD. However, aside from manganese,
no specific occupational or environmental agent has been linked
a welder with PD, the following is recommended:
any exposure to manganese
||Ask your neurologist
about his/her knowledge about toxic causes of PD
||Apply for workers’ compensation
PD caused by welding would not be treated any differently
than PD without a known cause. Making a causal connection between
work as a welder and developing PD is principally based on occupational
history of exposure. Testing body fluids including blood and urine
for manganese is usually not helpful, especially after retirement,
since the manganese has long since left the body.
To prevent PD among welders, you should avoid significant exposures
to airborne manganese. That means you should:
whether you are welding manganese-containing materials
||Ask an industrial
hygienist whether your exposure to airborne manganese is significant
and find a proper way to reduce your exposure.