For the years 1987-1990 160 individual samples of manual metal arc stainless steel (MMA/SS) welding fumes from the breathing zone of welders in four industrial plants were collected. Concentrations of soluble and insoluble chromium (Cr) III and Cr VI compounds as well as of some other welding fume elements (Fe, Mn, Ni, F) were determined. Concentration of welding fumes in the breathing zone ranged from 0.2 to 23.4 mg/m3. Total Cr amounted to 0.005-0.991 mg/m3 (including 0.005-0.842 mg/m3 Cr VI). Total Cr content of fumes varied from 0.1 to 7.4%. The distribution of particular Cr compounds was: 52.6% soluble Cr (including 50.7% Cr VI), 65.5% total Cr VI, and 11.4% insoluble Cr VI. The results obtained indicate that MMA/SS welding is a process that could be highly hazardous to human health. Evaluation of occupational exposure has shown that MMA/SS welders may exceed the admissible concentrations of soluble and insoluble Cr VI forms as well as of Mn and Ni. In the plants investigated the sum of the ratios of concentrations of particular welding fumes in the breathing zone of welders exceeded corresponding maximum allowable concentration values by 24 times (including 17 times for total Cr VI). Due to the variety and changeability of particular parameters occurring in the working environment, the composition of MMA/SS welding fumes (in the welder's breathing zone) is so variable that it is not possible to assess the exposure by means of one universal exposure indicator (maximum additive hygienic limit value). The evaluation should be based on the results of measurements of concentrations of particular elements in welding fumes.
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