Study Links ALS Risk to Formaldehyde Exposure On-the-Job
New research indicates that work-place exposure to formaldehyde may substantially increase an individuals risk of developing an dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
In a study published this week by the medical journal Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, researchers found that men with a higher likelihood of formaldehyde exposure were three times as likely to have died of ALS than men who had no formaldehyde exposure.
Researchers took data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study (NLMS), which involved a multistage sample of more than 1.5 million people from the U.S. population. NLMS matched records to the National Death Index (NDI) from 1970 to 2011 to find the cause of death.
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Nearly 800,000 men and 700,000 women over the age of 25 were asked about their current or most recent job, with researchers determining which were likely to experience formaldehyde exposure.
High exposure to formaldehyde lead to a three times higher rate of death from ALS in men and triple the average risk of developing the disease. As for women, few had high exposure to formaldehyde or jobs that exposed them to the chemical. There were no ALS deaths among women.
The intensity of formaldehyde exposure was less likely to be associated with ALS; yet men who had a higher probability of exposure and higher intensity of exposure were more likely to have a higher risk of death due to ALS.
Among the men with high intensity exposure, only two deaths were reported. All men who had high probability and high intensity exposures were funeral directors, putting them in direct contain with the harmful chemical.
Veterans also had a higher than average risk of death from ALS, but researchers couldn’t determine why.
Formaldehyde is used to embalm the deceased and preserve tissue. It is sometimes used to make particle board and other wood products and glues.
A report conducted in 2008 found some baby furniture was being manufactured using formaldehyde, raising concerns of formaldehyde exposure among infants and young children. Studies have shown children living in homes with low levels of formaldehyde were diagnosed with asthma.
The chemical is also used as a preservative in shampoo and Brazilian blowout hair treatments. Three members of congress called on the FDA in 2012 to investigate the companies that manufacture the Brazilian blowout products and to protect consumers from the effects of the chemicals.
Researchers determined people who were exposed to formaldehyde were “slightly poorer, less educated and were less frequently non-Hispanic White. Prior studies on animals have shown the neurotoxic effects of formaldehyde linking it to a probability of ALS.
ALS is a condition that damages the nerves of the body and gradually paralyzes those affected by the disease. Approximately 30,000 Americans have ALS, which is always fatal.
Another large study found a strong-dose relationship between formaldehyde and ALS, but did not reach statistical significant to implicate the chemical in the disease.
Formaldehyde is classified as a probable human carcinogen at high exposure and is known to damage nerves.
Researchers say the results of the new study should be “interpreted cautiously,” since even people whose deaths were the result of ALS had no probable exposure to formaldehyde. More research is needed to determine a cause and effect relationship.
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