Background Welding fume has been categorized as "possibly carcinogenic" to humans. Our objectives were to characterize the lung response to carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic metal-containing welding fumes and to determine if these fumes caused increased lung tumorigenicity in A/J mice, a lung tumor susceptible strain. We exposed male A/J and C57BL/6J, a lung tumor resistant strain, by pharyngeal aspiration four times (once every 3 days) to 85 μg of gas metal arc-mild steel (GMA-MS), GMA-stainless steel (SS), or manual metal arc-SS (MMA-SS) fume, or to 25.5 μg soluble hexavalent chromium (S-Cr). Shams were exposed to saline vehicle. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) was done at 2, 7, and 28 days post-exposure. For the lung tumor study, gross tumor counts and histopathological changes were assessed in A/J mice at 48 and 78 weeks post-exposure. Results BAL revealed notable strain-dependent differences with regards to the degree and resolution of the inflammatory response after exposure to the fumes. At 48 weeks, carcinogenic metal-containing GMA-SS fume caused the greatest increase in tumor multiplicity and incidence, but this was not different from sham. By 78 weeks, tumor incidence in the GMA-SS group versus sham approached significance (p = 0.057). A significant increase in perivascular/peribronchial lymphoid infiltrates for the GMA-SS group versus sham and an increased persistence of this fume in lung cells compared to the other welding fumes was found. Conclusion The increased persistence of GMA-SS fume in combination with its metal composition may trigger a chronic, but mild, inflammatory state in the lung possibly enhancing tumorigenesis in this susceptible mouse strain.