The nature of welding — joining two metal parts together — requires an intense amount of heat. This heat can cause damage to a welder’s primary tool, the welding rod.
So it makes sense that asbestos coated these rods to protect them from fire or heat destruction.
While asbestos safeguarded the welding equipment, it certainly didn’t shield the welders. In fact, it was the opposite.
Asbestos is a fire-resistant and durable mineral, which explains why it coated heat-producing machinery and tools like welding rods. However, the presence of asbestos in welding equipment caused a heightened risk of asbestos-related diseases among welders. One such disease, a rare cancer called mesothelioma, affects welders at a higher-than-average rate compared to all trades.
Welders who already are diagnosed, or who know someone diagnosed, should reach out to our knowledgeable team. We can help you find treatment and get financial help. Email our patient advocate, Jenna Campagna, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danger of Asbestos Exposure for Welders
Asbestos that stays attached to welding rods isn’t dangerous. The issue for welders is the mineral rarely stays completely intact on the tool.
Welders use the rod to liquefy metal (or steel) using heat. Doing so allows welders to combine two pieces of metal together. They also cut and adjust pieces using welding equipment.
Using the rod on a metal or steel plate or object sends sparks and smoke into the air. Asbestos is made up of fragile and flaky strands, almost like pieces of fabric. The use of a welding rod on metal causes a disturbance in the asbestos mixture. These strands would loosen and separate from the rod, and their weightless characteristic led to floating in the airspace of welders.
Once asbestos fibers become airborne, they’re dangerous. Their sharp ends can piece into tissue linings and irritate cells, which causes cancer.
A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine details how welders often retain asbestos fibers near their lungs.
A study of 211 welders found that 82 (39%) had elevated levels of asbestos particles in lung tissue or fluid samples.
Mesothelioma often forms near the lungs — in a thin membrane called the pleura, which separates the lung cavity and chest wall. Evidence of fibers reaching lung tissue means fibers can reach the pleura.
In an American Journal of Epidemiology report, welders had an increased risk of developing lung cancer from asbestos. They also had an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. Safety and Health at Work published similar findings about welders and mesothelioma.
Researchers and Georgetown University and Duke University tried to quantify the mesothelioma risk among steel and metal workers. They found 43 reported cases of mesothelioma among the 1,445 occupation-related diagnoses. That figure was the ninth-highest, more than even asbestos manufacturing plant workers.
Trades and Companies Linked to Welding Work and Welding Rods
Welding and the use of welding rods are practical in numerous American industries. Any jobs that require adjusting the shape of metal or combining two pieces likely involves a welding rod. Railroad, automobile repair, power plant and construction work are just a few industries involving metal or steel objects and parts.
The link between welding and mesothelioma has pushed manufacturing companies to face victims in legal disputes. For instance, Lincoln Electric, founded in 1906, makes arc-welding rods and other cutting equipment. The company faces multiple legal claims alleging their equipment exposed people to asbestos.
According to the company’s annual report in 2019, more than 3,000 people have filed claims against Lincoln Electric. As of December 31, 2019, we were a co-defendant in cases alleging asbestos induced illness involving claims by approximately 3,233 plaintiffs.
Since 1995, the company has faced approximately 56,000 asbestos-related legal claims, many of which were mesothelioma lawsuits.
The company stopped using asbestos in its welding equipment in 1981, but mesothelioma’s decades-long latency period means welders from the 1970s may just learn they have the cancer. Even more recent welders — from the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s — could still have used old Lincoln Electric welding equipment, unaware that asbestos is present or dangerous to their health.
Show Sources & Author
- Retention of Asbestos Bodies in the Lungs of Welders. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ajim.4700250604. Accessed: 09/17/2020.
- Welding and Lung Cancer in a Pooled Analysis of Case-Control Studies. American Journal of Epidemiology. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3888276/. Accessed: 09/17/2020.
- Cancer Risks among Welders and Occasional Welders in a National Population-Based Cohort Study: Canadian Census Health and Environmental Cohort. Safety and Health at Work. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2093791116300944. Accessed: 09/17/2020.
- Malignant Mesothelioma and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: an Analysis of 1445 Cases. British Occupational Hygiene Society. Retrieved from: https://watermark.silverchair.com/46-suppl_1-150.pdf. Accessed: 08/11/2020.
- 2019 Annual Report. Lincoln Electric. Retrieved from: https://ir.lincolnelectric.com/static-files/70f999ff-3718-46f4-bb97-af58e3b27336. Accessed: 09/17/2020.
- Lincoln Electric Co. History. Funding Universe. Retrieved from: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/lincoln-electric-co-history/. Accessed: 09/17/2020.