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Welders Seem Unworried About Parkinson's After Jury Awards
$1 Million to Ailing Man

Brian Brueggemann
11/03/03
Belleville News-Democrat

Rea has his own shop in Edwardsville. He doesn't think welding rod fumes are dangerous.

Lindell Rea has seen the warning labels and he's heard about how fumes from his welding might make him sick.

He's not too concerned.

"I can make money at this and pay my bills," said Rea, 47, owner of Rea's Machine & Welding in Edwardsville. "We're all going to die some day."

Rea heard the news last week from the Madison County Courthouse about a retired welder from Collinsville who was awarded $1 million in a lawsuit against makers of welding rods. The plaintiff, 65-year-old Larry Elam, claimed fumes from welding caused his Parkinson's disease.

It was the first time a plaintiff prevailed in such a case. In seven previous trials across the country, jurors sided with the defense six times and were unable to reach a unanimous decision in one case.

Rea isn't convinced welding fumes cause the disease.

"No, I think some people are going to get it and some people aren't, like cancer," he said. "I don't know that they can actually say it's from welding."

Jeff Weber, publisher of the American Welding Society's Welding Journal, said there's been little talk about welding fumes and Parkinson's among the group's 50,000 members.

"I think it would be a much hotter topic if there were a definitive study, but I haven't heard of any," Weber said. "As I understand it, there hasn't been any medical study that has proven a correlation."

Weber said Friday he had not heard about the Madison County verdict.

Most welders, Weber said, do not wear a respirator to prevent inhalation of fumes.

"They rely primarily on ventilation," Weber said. "I think they sometimes find respirators to be hot or uncomfortable."

Rea, who's been welding since he was a boy working in his father's shop, doesn't wear a respirator.

"It's cumbersome and gets in the way," Rea said. "A person probably should."

A concern for Rea is that insurance costs will increase for welders.

"You aren't going to be able to get insurance," he said. "In the next 10 years, you might not have any welders or machinists in this country."

A juror in the Elam case has said she wasn't completely convinced of a link between welding and Parkinson's, but it's suspicious.

Brad Racette, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, conducted a study on 15 welders with Parkinson's. He found the welders' average age of onset to be 46, compared to 63 for nonwelders.

"This research doesn't prove that welding causes Parkinson's disease, but it's suspicious that the majority of these patients had a much younger age of onset," Racette said.

Lucy Sargent, a spokesman for the New York-based Parkinson's Disease Foundation, said more research is needed.

"We think it should be looked at," Sargent said. "We just don't have a clear picture of it."

Dr. Paul Nausieda, a neurologist from Milwaukee, testified in Elam's trial about his participation in a study of welders in three Gulf Coast states. Nausieda said about 2,500 of the roughly 20,000 welders screened so far have Parkinson's or a form of the disease.

Parkinson's affects about 1 percent of people older than 50.

Welding rod manufacturers deny any link between welding fumes and the disease, but a few years ago they began putting a warning label on welding rods, stating they may cause neurological problems. Lawyers for the companies claim the warnings were added out of fear of lawsuits.

Rea doesn't know any welders with Parkinson's.

"I don't know anybody who has it, and I know quite a few welders," he said.

Elam's attorney, Bob Bosslet, expects to see mounting evidence against the manufacturers.

"I think that as this is studied more, these cases are going to become easier to prove," he said.

 
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