The hottest potato in North America is currently the ongoing welding fume litigation process. Thousands of welders have filed their cases in the US courts and are now waiting to find out whether the manufacturers of welding rods will be convicted for causing sickness.

The cases involve allegations concerning adverse medical effects and personal injuries supposedly resulting from exposure to fumes given off during welding process. Defendants say that fumes produced during welding contain manganese, which has exposed welders to Parkinson\\$quot;s disease. They also claim that commercial manufacturers and sellers of welding rods were aware of these health dangers for many years but failed to provide sufficient warnings.

The latest turn happened beginning of December when an Illinois jury found for the defendants in the Boren v. A. O. Smith Corporation welding fume trial by rejecting the claimants contention that welding fumes caused neurological injury for him.

The Boren trial originally began at the end of May last year when the judge granted an unopposed plaintiffs\\$quot; challenge to the panel of jurors during voir dire. The court continued the trial to mid September and granted the parties leave to conduct additional discovery concerning a study at the end of June in which the authors concluded that some relationship existed between manganese fume exposure and certain neurological disorders. The court further continued the trial to end of October to allow for additional discovery on updated scientific evidence concerning the health effects of exposure to manganese.

The Boren verdict follows on the heels of the recent order granting a new trial in Presler v. Lincoln Electric in which the jury had found in favor of the welding defendants. The court granted the new trial based on thousands of documents produced by certain welding defendants. Boren further evidences the unresolved status of the liability of the welding industry for alleged neurological disorders resulting from welders\\$quot; exposure to welding fumes as part of the welding process as well as the incomplete nature of scientific studies addressing the alleged health effects of exposure to welding fumes containing manganese.

Million dollar victory

So far only one case has been successfully litigated in the US. In 2003 the 5th Appellate Court upheld a one million dollar Madison County verdict in favor of a Collinsville man\\$quot;s claim that manganese in welding rods caused his Parkinson\\$quot;s disease.

Larry Elam filed a suit against Lincoln Electric, Hobart Brothers and the BOC Group in 2001 claiming the defendants were negligent in failing to investigate welding health hazards and providing adequate warnings.

Industrial gas giant BOC tried to overturn the court ruling but lost its appeal at the end of December 2005. BOC says that it has faced 8500 litigation claims from people with Parkinson\\$quot;s as of the end of September 2005. The company says it is disappointed with the latest appeal court decision and intends to appeal against it to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Manganism similar to Parkinsonism

Lawyers for the welders\\$quot; continue to claim that welding fumes may cause the early onset of Parkinson\\$quot;s disease in welders.

Lawyers for the welders\\$quot; continue to claim that welding fumes may cause the early onset of Parkinson\\$quot;s disease in welders.
Law Offices of Thomas J. Lamb for example claims that long term and heavy exposure to welding fumes can result in the early development of Parkinson\\$quot;s disease. They continue saying that occupational exposure to manganese fumes emitted when filler materials are burned during welding has been related to the development of early Parkinson\\$quot;s disease in some welders. Parkinson\\$quot;s disease is caused by the progressive destruction of nerve cells that control muscle movement.

The company says: \\$quot;It has been long known that manganese poisoning or manganese toxicity can lead to an occupational disease called manganism. Because symptoms of manganism disease are so similar to Parkinson\\$quot;s symptoms, manganism has been classified as a Parkinson\\$quot;s syndrome by doctors; thus, manganese exposure from welding fumes may be an environmental cause of Parkinson\\$quot;s disease in welders.\\$quot;

Another US personal injury attorney says welding has been linked to Parkinsonism illness, welders had a younger age of Parkinson onset at 46 years of age compared with sequentially ascertained controls where the average age of onset for Parkinson\\$quot;s was 63 years. However, according to the company, doctors are not sure if welders suffer the same disease as clinical Parkinson\\$quot;s or if this is a different disease caused by manganese poisoning.

Meritless claims

Lawyers for the welding industry defendants say that there is no evidence to support the claims. Welding Rod Defence Group claims for example that there are no scientifically sound studies demonstrating that mild steel welding, the type of welding at issue in almost all the pending cases, causes Parkinson\\$quot;s disease, manganism or Parkinson\\$quot;s-like movement disorders.

The information network continues saying that welding products have a long track record of safety. \\$quot;In close to a century of welding activity, no epidemiological studies have shown that welders develop Parkinson\\$quot;s disease or Parkinson\\$quot;s-like movement disorders at a greater rate than the public at large.\\$quot;

Lawyers for the welding industry defendants maintain that they are committed to defending their clients against all welding disease lawsuits. One company\\$quot;s attorney called ´these meritless claims´ but in the future trials the key question for the jury will be whether welding fumes can cause neurological illnesses such as manganese poisoning or Parkinson\\$quot;s disease in welders and other trade workers.

The next major trial starts 6 February when the Morgan case that involves some 5000 welding fume cases is tried against Lincoln Electric, TDY, ESAB, BOC and Hobart Brothers.

None of the defendant companies were available for a comment.

Parkinson\\$quot;s disease in a nutshell

Parkinson disease is a brain disorder. According to National Parkinson Foundation, it occurs when certain nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these cells produce a vital chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine allows smooth, coordinated function of the body\\$quot;s muscles and movement. When approximately 80 per cent of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the symptoms of Parkinson disease appear.

Parkinson disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders. It affects approximately one million Americans and about one to two per cent of those over age 60 worldwide. With the lifetime risk of two per cent and an increasing incidence with age, coupled with aging of the population, the prevalence of Parkinson\\$quot;s is expected to triple over the next 50 years. Despite the growing number of newly identified genetic causes of Parkinsonism, in the majority of cases the cause is unknown, hence the enormous interest in the role of environmental factors in various parkinsonian disorders.