Forty two male Wistar rats were exposed to manual metal arc (MMA) stainless steel (SS) welding fumes generated by an automatic welding device for "nose-only" exposure. The exposure simulated an actual MMA/SS welding environment as closely as possible. For the retention study, the duration of exposure was one hour per workday for one, two, three, of four weeks and for the clearance study four weeks. The retention and clearance of the chromium, nickel, and iron found in MMA/SS welding fumes in the rats' lungs were studied as was the distribution of the metals to other organs. Instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) was used for the multi-element chemical activation analyses. The concentrations of chromium and nickel in the blood and the urine were determined by atomic absorption method (AAS). The retention of exogenous iron was determined by a magnetic measuring method. The results indicated that the lungs were the target organs of soluble hexavalent chromates. The half times of lung clearance for Cr, Ni, and Fe were 40 +/- 4 d, 20 +/- d, and 50 +/- 10 d. When the lung clearance curves are compared, the half times of Cr and Fe lung clearance are similar but nickel disappears faster. The distribution and clearance patterns of chromium to other organs differ from those obtained after single intravenous or intratracheal injections of alkaline chromates.
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