Welding operations originate micro and nanoparticles represented by metal oxides, unoxidized metals and compounds, such as fluorides and chlorides. Welding fumes exposure is associated to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, asthma and early Parkinson disease. Ultrafine (nanosized) particles in welding fumes are considered a risk factor in terms of occupational exposure: when inhaled, they are efficiently deposited in all regions of the respiratory tract and can translocate to other target organs as brain and systemic circulation. The study of nanoparticles emissions during welding can help to understand effects related also to new-engineered nanoparticles exposure.
In our study two real sources of Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) fumes particles, collected in an automotive plant, were characterized by means of a transmission electron microscope coupled with an energy-dispersive X-ray analytical system (TEM-EDS) and compared to a zone of the plant far from the two sources used as a reference background. The particles sampled during the automatic GTAW process were mainly constituted by iron/manganese oxide with a mean diameter of 47 nm, followed by smaller iron oxide nanoparticles (21 nm). During the manual welding process mostly aggregates with larger diameters that showed an X-ray spectrum characteristic of different kinds of silicates were found. Iron and cobalt oxides nanoparticles were present only inside bigger aggregates mainly composed of aluminum and titanium oxides.
This study confirms that welders are exposed to nano- and submicron particles and that iron/manganese oxide nanoparticles are the most representative in automatic process, despite the low concentration of manganese in welding wires (1–2%). Our results help to understand hazard related to welding fume exposure and possible effects of nanoparticles on lung, brain and systemic circulation.