Manganism occurs when people are exposed to high levels of manganese, which builds up in the patient's system and causes damage to the lungs, central nervous system, liver and kidney. The results of high levels of manganese are symptoms that resemble Parskinson's disease: headaches, tremors, balance problems, loss of coordination and cognitive impairment. Manganism is sometimes called "Welders' Disease" because it reportedly appears more frequently in welders than in the general population. Manganese is a component of fumes produced by welding, putting welders at risk of inhaling high levels of the chemical.
According to research, symptoms of Manganism do not usually arise unless workers have been exposed to manganese for months or years. Furthermore, it is more common when workers have not had proper air quality protection, including ventilation and/or masks. A study published in Neurology in 2001 (and reported by Fabricating and Metalworking; 11/08) found that when patients with Parkinson's were compared with career welders, the welders developed symptoms of Parkinson's at an age more than 15 years younger than that of the Parkinson's patients. Welders developed symptoms at an average age of 46 while the Parkinson's patients developed symptoms at an average age of 63.
Meanwhile, an imaging study published in Neurology in April 2011, suggested welders who are exposed during their work to manganese fumes could be at risk of developing neuronal damage similar to that of Parkinson's patients.
Although it cannot be concluded that welding causes Parkinson's, Manganism or similar diseases, manganese is known to be a toxin at high levels, which can lead to disease. Some experts argue that welders who developed Parkinson-like symptoms were predisposed to Parkinson's disease.
One lawsuit filed by a man who alleged he developed Parkinson's after years of breathing the fumes from welding rods resulted in an award of $1 million in 2003. That award was reportedly upheld on appeal. A different lawsuit, filed by Stanley McLemore who alleged he developed Manganism after being a welder, resulted in an award of $1.8 million. That award was overturned on appeal, when the court found that the statute of limitations had run out when he filed his lawsuit.