In the case Tucker and Gomez v. Lincoln Electric and Hobart Brothers Company, which was decided in 2003, the jury found that asbestos contained in the welding rods used by the defendants during their careers was in fact responsible for the diseases (mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer) that ultimately killed them. Despite the defendants’ claims to the contrary, this landmark case represented the first jury verdict against manufacturers of welding rods where a product was connected to asbestos diseases.
Welding rods have been used since early in the 20th century for adding material during welding jobs. They consisted of various alloys and were sold in 2 and 3-foot lengths. There were several varieties available. Welding rods were made from several different metals for specific welding jobs, including mild steel, cast iron, bronze, manganese, nickel-steel, aluminum, vanadium, chrome and drawn copper.
Today, a welding rod is actually a type of electrode used in arc welding for conducting current through a component in order to fuse them together. For half a century starting in the 1930s, these welding rods contained high levels of amphibole asbestos – most often the crocidolite or “blue” variety, which is known for its ability to resist electrical current. This was proven in the aforementioned trial by the disease from which Mr. Tucker died. Pleural mesothelioma has only one proven cause, which is exposure to asbestos fibers – specifically, the hard, needle-like amphibole variety.
Not only would the welders have been exposed to these fibers; anyone in the vicinity was likely to have been exposed as well. The fibers may cause mesothelioma by burrowing their way through lung tissues from the inside out. During this journey, the fibers interact with living cells’ DNA in ways that medical researchers do not yet fully understand; the result however is the development of malignant tumors.
Unfortunately, the health dangers involved in the use of welding rods does not stop with asbestos. During the last several years, fumes given off by welding rods have been implicated in the development of Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological disorders. As of this writing, there has been an increase in lawsuits specifically related to welding rods, but the veritable tidal wave of welding rod litigation predicted by some in the legal industry has yet to materialize.