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Exposure to welding fumes is associated with acute systemic inflammatory responses
  1. J Y Kim1,
  2. J-C Chen1,
  3. P D Boyce2,
  4. D C Christiani1
  1. 1Department of Environmental Health, Occupational Health Program, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA
  2. 2Pulmonary and Critical Care Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Prof. D C Christiani
 Harvard School of Public Health, Occupational Health Program, Building I, Room 1402, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA;


Aims: To investigate the acute systemic inflammatory response to welding fume exposure.

Methods: Twenty four welders (42% smokers) and 13 non-exposed controls (23% smokers) were monitored at a welding school. Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was assessed using cyclone samplers. Markers of systemic inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP), fibrinogen, and white blood cell (WBC) levels, were determined in peripheral blood samples collected at baseline and after 5.3 (SD 1.0) hours of exposure.

Results: The median PM2.5 concentration for welders was 1.66 mg/m3, which was significantly greater than that for controls (0.04 mg/m3). Compared to non-smokers, smokers had a significantly higher baseline WBC count, but comparable levels of CRP and fibrinogen. In non-smokers, welding fume exposure was associated with a significant increase in WBC and neutrophil counts immediately following exposure (+0.8×103/μl, 95% CI 0.1 to 1.6, and +1.0×103/μl, 95% CI 0.4 to 1.7, respectively). A significant decrease in fibrinogen levels was observed in non-smokers (−32 mg/dl, 95% CI −63 to −1). No significant changes in WBC, neutrophil, and fibrinogen levels were found in smokers. Sixteen hours after welding exposure, CRP levels were found to be significantly increased in both non-smokers and smokers (0.90 mg/l, 95% CI 0.17 to 1.64). PM2.5 concentrations were found to be significantly associated with absolute neutrophil counts in non-smokers, and CRP levels in both non-smokers and smokers.

Conclusions: High levels of welding fume exposure induce acute systemic inflammation in a relatively young, healthy working population. These results also suggest that smoking may modify the effect of welding fume exposure on specific inflammatory markers.

  • 95% CI, 95% confidence interval
  • ATS, American Thoracic Society
  • CRP, C-reactive protein
  • PM2.5, particulate matter with an aerodynamic mass median diameter ⩽2.5 μm
  • PM10, particulate matter with an aerodynamic mass median diameter ⩽10 μm
  • RBC, red blood cell
  • SD, standard deviation
  • SEM, standard error of the mean
  • WBC, white blood cell
  • C-reactive protein
  • inflammation
  • systemic
  • occupational health
  • particulate matter
  • welding fume
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  • This study was supported by NIH grants ES09860, ES00002, and CA94715. Dr Kim was supported by Harvard-NIOSH Education and Research Center training grant T42110421 and a NIEHS post-doctoral fellowship T32 ES07069.

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