, Volume 85, Issue 5, pp 487-498
Date: 06 Oct 2010

Persistence of deposited metals in the lungs after stainless steel and mild steel welding fume inhalation in rats

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Welding generates complex metal fumes that vary in composition. The objectives of this study were to compare the persistence of deposited metals and the inflammatory potential of stainless and mild steel welding fumes, the two most common fumes used in US industry. Sprague–Dawley rats were exposed to 40 mg/m3 of stainless or mild steel welding fumes for 3 h/day for 3 days. Controls were exposed to filtered air. Generated fume was collected, and particle size and elemental composition were determined. Bronchoalveolar lavage was done on days 0, 8, 21, and 42 after the last exposure to assess lung injury/inflammation and to recover lung phagocytes. Non-lavaged lung samples were analyzed for total and specific metal content as a measure of metal persistence. Both welding fumes were similar in particle morphology and size. Following was the chemical composition of the fumes—stainless steel: 57% Fe, 20% Cr, 14% Mn, and 9% Ni; mild steel: 83% Fe and 15% Mn. There was no effect of the mild steel fume on lung injury/inflammation at any time point compared to air control. Lung injury and inflammation were significantly elevated at 8 and 21 days after exposure to the stainless steel fume compared to control. Stainless steel fume exposure was associated with greater recovery of welding fume-laden macrophages from the lungs at all time points compared with the mild steel fume. A higher concentration of total metal was observed in the lungs of the stainless steel welding fume at all time points compared with the mild steel fume. The specific metals present in the two fumes were cleared from the lungs at different rates. The potentially more toxic metals (e.g., Mn, Cr) present in the stainless steel fume were cleared from the lungs more quickly than Fe, likely increasing their translocation from the respiratory system to other organs.