Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1994;20(4):279-285    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.1397

Internal load of aluminum and the central nervous system function of aluminum welders.

by Hanninen H, Matikainen E, Kovala T, Valkonen S, Riihimaki V

OBJECTIVES Because the brain is the recognized target organ for aluminum toxicity, internal aluminum load and central nervous system functions were investigated among aluminum welders in a shipyard.

METHODS Seventeen male welders with a mean age of 37 (range 24-48) years and a history of about four years of metal inert-gas welding on aluminum were the subjects. Aluminum in serum (S-Al) and urine (U-Al) was analyzed with graphite-furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Central nervous system functions were examined with neuropsychological tests, symptom and mood questionnaires, quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG), and P300 evoked responses.

RESULTS The mean S-Al concentration was 0.21 (range 0.03-0.64) mumol.l-1 and the mean U-Al was 2.8 (range 0.9-6.1) mumol.l-1. Although the welders performed normally on the neuropsychological tests, there was a negative association between all four memory tests and U-Al and a positive association between the variability of visual reaction times and S-Al. In the QEEG, the amount of delta and theta activity in the frontal region correlated positively and the amount of alpha activity in the frontal region correlated negatively with S-Al.

CONCLUSIONS The S-Al and U-Al measurements indicated increased internal loads of aluminum in most of the welders. This finding is compatible with slowly eliminated aluminum from tissues. The neuropsychological assessment suggested disturbing effects of aluminum on short-term memory, learning, and attention. In the QEEG, a corresponding exposure-effect relationship was found for activity in the frontal region. Further studies are needed on the possibility that exposure to aluminum welding fumes causes harm to human health.