Workers exposed to solvents may continue to experience cognitive difficulties decades later, according to new findings by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers and colleagues. In a study of retired male utility workers, the researchers found evidence of damage to thinking and memory as long as 50 years after exposure. They also found that the men most exposed to solvents, and exposed most recently, suffered the most cognitive impairment.

The study appeared online May 12, 2014 in Neurology.

Lead author Erika Sabbath, a research fellow in the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, told USA Today that workers currently exposed to specific solvents should seek advice on protection from a person certified in industrial hygiene. However, in general, she advised, “using a respirator, ventilating the area and if possible eliminating the exposure altogether.” For example, people who use paints could switch to versions that have no or lower levels of VOCS (volatile organic compounds), she said.

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