In 1987, the USA Environmental Protection Agency listed formaldehyde as a possible human carcinogen. And yet, there are still products manufactured with the chemical, and plenty of human contact with the dangerous substance. Preliminary results now show that this common environmental chemical may increase the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
This research was presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Chicago, April 12–19, 2008. Over one million people were asked to report their exposure to 12 types of chemicals. The participants were followed for 15 years, and the number of people who died during that time of ALS was tracked. A total of 617 men and 539 women died from ALS during the study.
Researchers found no significant link between ALS and exposure to most chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides. However, those who reported that they had regular exposure to formaldehyde were 34 percent more likely to develop ALS than those with no exposure to formaldehyde.
“People with longer exposure to formaldehyde had a greater risk of developing ALS than those with shorter exposures,” said study author Marc Weisskopf, PhD, of Harvard University in Boston. “People who reported 10 or more years of exposure were almost four times as likely to develop ALS as those with no exposure.” He continued by saying that “This finding was somewhat surprising, because formaldehyde has not been raised as an issue in ALS before."
Formaldehyde is used in particle board and other wood products, permanent press fabrics, glues, and other household products, such as cosmetics and shampoo. It is also used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries, and as an industrial disinfectant.