Manganese poisoning, or manganism, can result from prolonged exposure to manganese by inhalation of fumes during the welding process.

Some Facts About Manganese:

  • A gray-white or silver brittle metallic element
  • Chemical symbol Mn
  • Occurs naturally in rocks and soil
  • The 12th most common element in the earth’s crust
  • Commonly used in mining and steel industries to strengthen or harden steel
  • Chronic daily intake through ingestion is common and necessary to support routine bodily functions
  • Chronic exposure through inhalation to more than adequate dosages leads to neurotoxicity, increased risk of respiratory complications, and sexual dysfunction in males
  • Has been determined by the EPA to be non-cancerous to humans
  • Manganese fumes are more toxic than manganese dust

Exposure to high levels of manganese by inhalation results primarily in adverse effects to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

Inhalation of manganese fumes passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, by which it is circulated throughout the body, including the brain, specifically, a part of the brain known as the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia helps to control the movements of the body. The toxins in welding fumes, especially manganese, adversely affect the basal ganglia, thereby causing a wide spectrum of movement problems, called extrapyramidal movement disorders.

These disorders include

  • Parkinsonism,
  • Parkinson’s Disease,
  • manganese-induced Parkinsonism,
  • manganese poisoning,
  • manganese toxicity,
  • manganism.

Many may tend to use several of these terms interchangeably, however, there is a distinct difference between Parkinson’s Disease and manganism.

Parkinson’s Disease and Welding

Though scientific studies have linked exposure to manganese with extrapyramidal movement disorders since 1837, only recently has a scientific study indicated that industrial exposure to welding fumes may be associated with the early onset of Parkinson’s Disease.

The study, led by Dr. Brad A. Racette, Neurologist and movement disorder specialist, concluded that the typical age of onset for Parkinson’s Disease in patients not exposed to welding fumes is approximately 61 years, however, the average age of onset in patients industrially exposed to welding fumes is approximately 46 years; a difference of 15 years in average age of onset between the categories of patients.Parkinson’s Disease is a slowly progressive, degenerative disorder of the central nervous system characterized by slow and decreased movement, called bradykinesia, muscular rigidity, tremor, and postural instability.

The degeneration process occurs mostly in a part of the basal ganglia known as the substantia nigra, causing a reduction of a vital neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain designed to control muscle activity and movement. It is usually transmitted between the substantia nigra, its originating point, and the corpus striatum, another part of the basal ganglia intended to receive dopamine and use it to coordinate fluid, controlled movement throughout the body.

Parkinson’s Disease can be classified as idiopathic, meaning, the treating healthcare professional is unable to identify a specific cause for the development of the condition, or secondary, meaning the treating healthcare professional has identified a likely cause.

The etiology of Parkinson’s Disease is not well known, and the disease can occur in patients with no family history or exposure to known risk factors. Parkinson’s Disease is commonly diagnosed when the patient may actually have a more general condition called Parkinsonism.

The broad term Parkinsonism can be used to refer to a number of extrapyramidal movement disorders.

Parkinson’s Disease is simply the most widely known condition that falls under the broader scope of Parkinsonism.

Manganism and Welding

Similar to, but set apart from, the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, symptoms of manganism include fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, loss of appetite, apathy, insomnia, feelings of weakness and lethargy, speech disturbances, tremors, disorientation, loss of memory, impairment of judgment, anxiety, hallucinations, illusions, delusions, abnormal gait, and sexual dysfunction.

Unlike Parkinson’s Disease, which mostly affects the substantia nigra, manganism is believed to primarily affect a part of the basal ganglia known as the globus pallidus (literally translated, “the white orb”).

Since the globus pallidus is not responsible for the production of dopamine, the resulting problems with movement are not caused by a lack of dopamine transmission.