A Home-Grown Problem: Air pollution in America

Clean air is something that most of us take for granted—most of us don’t have to worry about whether the air that we breathe will cause health issues for us or not. When we think about the people affected by polluted air, we think of workers in third world countries or people with unique medical conditions that make them uniquely sensitive to dust and smog. However, clean air is a very real concern for regular workers right here in America—and ignoring it could lead to long-term health consequences for thousands, according to experts at Robovent.

Thousands of manufacturing workers work under conditions that could be hazardous to their health. The most notable form of air pollution in manufacturing facilities comes from weld fumes. Weld fumes are produced, as their name would suggest, by welding. The welding process creates microscopic metal particles that are released into the air and can be breathed in by unsuspecting workers or bystanders.

Weld fumes are dangerous in large part due to their microscopic size. They are unnoticeable when ingested, and can collect in lungs, and even move on to the bloodstream. Foreign objects in the lungs and bloodstream is a cause for concern in any context, but these weld fumes become even more dangerous when manufacturing workers are welding certain kinds of metals. Exposure to particulates of hexavalent chromium or manganese, in particular, can cause severe health issues. These two metals are alarmingly prevalent in common metals, such as stainless steel. As it’s very likely that workers will encounter weld fumes containing these dangerous metals, caution is a must in a workplace where welding is taking place.

Manufacturing workers that have developed health issues from weld fumes have reported an array of symptoms. The most immediate and common symptoms are a pain in the eyes and throat, the two areas most immediately vulnerable to metallic particles. More serious exposure could lead to a prolonged illness with flu-like symptoms. Long-term exposure could even lead to permanent damage of the kidney and nervous system. In worst-case scenarios, exposure to the dangerous metals hexavalent chromium or manganese could lead to Parkinson’s-like symptoms or even cancer. The link between cancer and weld fumes is well-established by years of research and must be taken seriously.

With health risks this serious, it’s no surprise that there are stringent regulations surrounding the manufacturing industry, specifically around the emissions of weld fumes. OSHA has limits on the amount of fumes that workers can be exposed to in order to minimize the risks of contracting the myriad health issues associated with them. If facilities don’t abide by these regulations, they run the risk of being fined or sued.

Management at manufacturing facilities has a clear responsibility to their workers. A workplace that has weld fumes in it is by definition a hazardous one and must be managed with the utmost caution. Compliance with OSHA regulations is a must not only because of the consequences that come with breaking them, but also because of the well-being and dignity of the many workers who put their well-being at risk while welding every day.