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Industry Response to the June 2005 Report by Dr. Keith Josephs

Posted June 16, 2005

The Mayo Clinic’s recent report by Dr. Keith Josephs does not change the fact that there exists no sound epidemiological study linking welding or welding fumes to Parkinson’s disease or Parkinson’s-like movement disorders.

  • First, this report does not constitute a scientific study. It merely consists of data collected from eight welders who had been referred to the Mayo Clinic for neurological examination. The article lacks both controls and any type of epidemiological protocol; as a result, it cannot assess whether there is a statistically based association between welding exposure and any neurological condition. Rather, the article simply describes a series of cases reflecting the observations of physicians at the clinic. As the authors acknowledge: “Welding is a common occupation, and the association of welding with a medical condition does not necessarily imply that toxins from welding are the cause.”

  • Second, the eight welders reported a wide variation of common symptoms that do not point to one common diagnosis. All the reported signs and symptoms are frequently experienced in the general population and, as the authors note, many of them could result from a multitude of causes (e.g., headache, irritability, personality change, sleep disorders). The authors do not specify which of these signs or symptoms could potentially be related to the patients’ welding exposure. To the contrary, the authors concede that there is no discernible pattern to their observations due to the “heterogeneity” of the symptoms and that “the precise clinical spectrum” requires “further study and confirmation.”

  • Third, the case report does not contain scientific information regarding the actual levels of manganese to which the eight welders were exposed. The report, for example, does not set forth the results of representative air samples collected from the welders' worksites using validated techniques. Nor do the authors report that they obtained and reviewed such air sampling data. Instead, the authors simply conclude that the welders experienced "prominent" and "intense" exposures to welding fume generally and that they had "inadequate" ventilation. These conclusions, however, appear to be based solely on anecdotal information provided by the welders themselves rather than any objective testing of the welders' actual workplace conditions. Accordingly, the case report does not provide reliable information about the welders' actual levels of exposure to manganese. Thus, it does not provide any basis for concluding that exposures to manganese at concentrations below the legal, permissible limit established by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration are associated with any neurological condition.

  • The authors of the study echo what the welding industry has been saying for years: welding fumes do not pose health risks when the welder has adequate ventilation. As Dr. Josephs notes in the press release issued by the Mayo Clinic: “Protection is the key ingredient here… I think that if you have good protection and follow the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines for protection while welding, you're probably safe.”

  • The report also supports the industry’s position that welding does not cause Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Josephs does not find any link between welding fumes and Parkinson’s disease and makes a point to distinguish what he observed in these patients from Parkinson’s disease. This finding of the study is consistent with a recent epidemiological study published in the May 2005 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which concluded that there is no link between welding or exposure to welding fumes and an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease or any other similar neurodegenerative disorder. Entitled “A Cohort Study of Parkinson’s Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Disorders in Danish Welders,” it is the first epidemiological cohort study of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders undertaken among men employed as welders.
 
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