A Newport News law firm is investigating whether local shipyard welders suffered brain damage from overexposure to dangerous fumes on the job, gearing up for probable lawsuits against companies that make a key piece of welding equipment.

The firm is preparing to make claims in local courts that makers of welding rods which melt during the fusion process concealed the danger of manganese fumes. The firm plans to assert that the companies did not adequately warn welders to use proper ventilation when using the product.

Lawsuits against makers of welding rods have gained more attention since October, when an Illinois jury awarded $1 million to a 65-year-old welder who sued three manufacturers. Prior to that case, which has been appealed, this kind of litigation largely had been unsuccessful. But the October verdict has spurred hundreds of similar cases nationwide.

Welding, the process of fusing metal parts, is heavily used in manufacturing everything from ships to cars to planes to construction equipment. Manganese, a component of some welding rods, helps strengthen the fused metals.

The lawsuits claim that because of inadequate warnings from welding rod makers, welders didn’t always use adequate ventilation in their work spaces like a personal respirator or piped ventilation. The suits allege welders breathed in the manganese fumes, which then traveled to the brain causing damage.

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