Modelling of exposure to respirable and inhalable welding fumes at German workplaces

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified welding fumes as carcinogenic to humans, and occupational exposure limits should be established to protect welders. The aim of this study is to estimate exposure levels to inhalable and respirable welding fumes by welding process to use them for exposure assessment in epidemiological studies and to derive occupational exposure limits. In total, 15,473 mass concentrations of inhalable and 9,161 concentrations of respirable welding fumes could be analyzed along with welding-related and sampling information, which were compiled in the German database MEGA between 1983 and 2016. In both particle-size fractions, model-based geometric means of the concentrations were estimated by welding process and material for frequently used welding processes adjusted for sampling time and median-centered for calendar years. The inhalable concentrations were approximately twice the respirable concentrations, with medians of 3 mg/m3 (inter-quartile range: 1.2–7.0 mg/m3) and 1.5 mg/m3 (inter-quartile range: < limit of detection −3.8 mg/m3), respectively. The adjusted geometric means of flux-cored arc welding, metal inert and active gas welding, shielded metal arc welding and torch cutting ranged from 0.9 to 2.2 mg/m3 for respirable welding fumes and from 2.3 to 4.7 mg/m3 for inhalable fumes. In both particle-size fractions, geometric means were between 0.1 and 0.9 mg/m3 when performing tungsten inert gas, autogeneous, resistance, laser, and plasma welding or spraying. Results derived from this large dataset are useful for a quantitative exposure assessment to estimate health risks of welders.