In a recent study published in Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, a team of researchers found that men working as funeral directors may be at an increased risk for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. According to the authors this might be related to the high probability of exposure to formaldehyde.
In the study titled “Job-related formaldehyde exposure and ALS mortality in the USA”, the team of researchers retrieved data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study of 674,694 women and 794,541 men, to assess the association between formaldehyde exposure and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) mortality.
The researchers then examined study participants’ occupations and categorized them into probability and intensity of formaldehyde exposure: none, low, medium or high. Results revealed that participants exposed versus unexposed to formaldehyde were slightly poorer, less educated, and less frequently non-Hispanic White. The results also showed that a high probability of formaldehyde exposure versus no exposure predicted an almost three times higher rate of ALS mortality in men. Among women, few had high-exposure-probability jobs and there were no ALS deaths in this category.
Intensity of formaldehyde exposure was less strongly associated with ALS. High-probability, high-intensity exposure was associated to men with an increased rate of ALS mortality, although there were only two ALS deaths among these highly exposed men. All men with high-probability, high-intensity exposure were funeral directors.
According to the researchers, these results should be interpreted cautiously, because jobs involving both high probability and high intensity of formaldehyde exposure are relatively uncommon in the USA, and ALS is also rare; there were only two ALS deaths among men in such jobs.
“In addition to formaldehyde, funeral directors are exposed to other chemicals used in embalming, as well as to viral, bacterial and prion pathogens. Thus, further study of the association of ALS with high levels of formaldehyde exposure and among funeral directors is warranted,” the authors concluded.
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