High formaldehyde exposure linked with ALS

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Men exposed to high levels of formaldehyde on the job—mostly funeral directors—may have triple the death risk from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, as men with lower levels of exposure, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. Researchers looked at a national dataset of 1.5 million U.S. adults that included job information, along with criteria that estimates formaldehyde exposure for various occupations. They then matched that information with ALS-related deaths from 1979-2011.

The research “really suggests that we should do a study of [the funeral] industry,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, in a July 13, 2015 article in TIME. “The bottom line is we know almost nothing about what causes ALS, so any clue that we can get might be relevant, and hopefully would be relevant not just for people in this profession but for other people as well.”