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Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Welders

Welders work with extremely hot temperatures and in hot environments, so there’s a risk of fire damage or injury. For decades, asbestos served as an insulant to protect welders from the heat, but this mineral is capable of causing cancers such as mesothelioma.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

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Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Welders

  • Welders work with extremely hot temperatures to melt and shape metal. These hot temperatures require a protective insulant, which for decades was asbestos.
  • Using welding rods, which is a welder’s main tool, can send sparks into the air. This can disturb asbestos and release sharp fibers into the air.
  • Inhaling or swallowing asbestos can cause mesothelioma cancer and other deadly diseases. Welders are linked to mesothelioma in numerous studies.

What Is Welding?

Welding is a fabrication process that involves joining or fusing metal parts together using various techniques. It is a critical method used in industries such as construction, manufacturing, automotive, and aerospace. The primary goal of welding is to create a strong and permanent bond between the metal components, allowing for the creation of complex structures and the repair of damaged ones.

The welding process typically involves heating the metals to their melting point or using a filler material to create a bond between the parts. Different welding techniques are employed based on the specific requirements of the project. 

Welders often use heavy machinery to perform this task. The most common tool is a welding rod, or an electrode. It is a filler metal used in certain types of welding processes. A rod is key component in welding as it provides the material to create the weld joint between two metal pieces. The welding rod is typically a metal wire or rod coated with a flux material. 

Asbestos Risks in Welding and Cutting

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with heat-resistant properties. It is capable of protecting work tools from overheating, which is the main cause of asbestos risks in welding and cutting. This is why asbestos was used as an insulant for welding rods, to protect them from fire or heat destruction.

Using the welding rod on a metal or steel 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 to cut or shape metal causes a disturbance in the asbestos mixture. These strands 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. Asbestos fibers float in the air and can be inhaled or swallowed by anyone in the area. Their sharp ends can lodge into tissue linings and irritate cells, which causes cancer.

The welding rods themselves also used to contain asbestos. Asbestos was added to welding rods to increase their strength and heat resistance. When asbestos-containing welding rods are heated, they release asbestos fibers into the air which can be inhaled by welders and cause serious health problems.

How Often Was Asbestos Used in Welding

Welding and the use of welding rods to cut and shape metal are common in numerous American industries. Any jobs that require adjusting the shape of metal or combining two pieces likely involves a welding rod and the asbestos risks in welding and cutting. Railroad, automobile repair, power plant and construction work are just a few industries involving metal or steel objects and parts.

Due to the widespread use of asbestos in welding, it was one of the top uses of asbestos during the 20th century, when asbestos was considered safe by the general public. While asbestos protected welding equipment, it was harmful for the workers who used welding rods and anyone who was in the vicinity — essentially everyone who was a welder by profession.

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Mesothelioma Among Welders

The presence of asbestos in welding equipment causes a heightened risk of asbestos-related diseases among welders. The primary concern is a rare cancer called mesothelioma. It can be difficult to diagnose and treat, which often leads to poor survival. 

Mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. These narrow linings are difficult to enter, but sharp asbestos fibers are tiny enough to infiltrate and get stuck in the cell linings. The fibers can irritate the cells and cause them to mutate, which leads to a tumor.

This rare cancer is only diagnosed in approximately 2,500 people in the U.S. each year. However, the majority of the cases involve people who once worked jobs involving asbestos exposure. Welding is one of the top occupations for asbestos exposure.

In an American Journal of Epidemiology report, welders had an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. Safety and Health at Work published similar findings about welders and mesothelioma.

A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine details how welders often retain asbestos fibers near their lungs. Researchers analyzed 211 welders and found that 82 (39%) had elevated levels of asbestos particles in lung tissue or fluid samples.

Researchers and Georgetown University and Duke University quantified the mesothelioma risk among steel and metal workers. Out of 1,445 occupation-related cases of mesothelioma, they found 43 cases involving welders. This occupation ranked 9th among all types of jobs, trailing high-exposure jobs like construction, shipyard workers, electricians and more.

Other Reports of Welders With Mesothelioma Cancer

There are reported cases of mesothelioma among welders. 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, Lincoln Electric was 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.

Help for Welders With Mesothelioma

Welders who are diagnosed with mesothelioma can receive compensation for asbestos risks in welding and cutting. They have a legitimate legal case against the companies responsible for manufacturing asbestos and adding it to welding rods and other welding tools.

Many of these companies knew asbestos was dangerous and continued using it for financial gain. Many of the companies who did not know asbestos was dangerous should have — usually due to a lack of research or care. There was a lot of negligence and maliciousness that put American workers at risk of exposure during the 20th century, when welding reached its peak.

Please consider seeking legal help if you are a former or current welder with mesothelioma. You can contact our legal staff for lawyer recommendations or learn the steps to filing a lawsuit. You can also get payment from an asbestos trust fund if the responsible company is no longer in business.

Welders who already are diagnosed, or who know someone diagnosed, should reach out to the Mesothelioma Guide patient advocates. We can help you find treatment and get financial help.
Email either of our patient advocates — Karen Ritter, RN (karen@mesotheliomaguide.com) or Carl Jewett (cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com) — to get more information.

Sources & Author

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Malignant Mesothelioma and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: an Analysis of 1445 Cases. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12036093/. Accessed: 06/06/2023.
  5. 2019 Annual Report. Lincoln Electric. Retrieved from: https://ir.lincolnelectric.com/static-files/70f999ff-3718-46f4-bb97-af58e3b27336. Accessed: 09/17/2020.
  6. Lincoln Electric Co. History. Funding Universe. Retrieved from: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/lincoln-electric-co-history/. Accessed: 09/17/2020.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.