Researchers have discovered a link between formaldehyde exposure and an increased risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), specifically for male funeral directors.
In the July issue of the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, researchers concluded that those whose jobs required continual exposure to formaldehyde in embalming fluid were three times more likely to develop ALS compared to those never exposed to the chemical, HealthDay News reported.
Researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health used census data gathered on 1.5 million adults in the United States. They estimated on-the-job exposure to formaldehyde using criteria developed by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and used death records to track ALS fatalities, HealthDay News reported.
“Of the approximately 500 men exposed to very high levels of formaldehyde, they were all funeral directors,” Andrea Roberts, study author and research associate at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, according to HealthDay News.
The National Funeral Directors Association responded to the study, and said it takes the information seriously and that funeral directors are aware of the potential occupational hazard. The association said it urges its members to take precautions and minimize their exposure to formaldehyde by ventilating rooms where embalming occurs, HealthDay News reported.
Researchers found that women with a high probability of exposure to the chemical did not have an increased risk but noted it’s possible too few women held such jobs, making it difficult to calculate the risk.
According to the report, Roberts suggested that women may be more involved with bereaved family members than embalming, which would limit their exposure. The authors further noted that the study does not show a cause-and-effect link between formaldehyde exposure and ALS risk.
“The field has seen mixed reports on this, and although the data has been carefully analyzed, further study would need to be done to confirm any association, especially in light of the many other exposures funeral directors are subjected to,” said Lucie Bruijn, chief scientist of the ALS Association, according to HealthDay News. “In addition, jobs involving high intensity of formaldehyde are relatively rare, hence the difficulty in confirming such an association.”