A surprising new study reveals that men who work in funeral homes are at greater risk of developing Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The study, which was led by Andrea Roberts of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, focused on the use of formaldehyde, a chemical used in funeral homes to preserve human bodies.
Roberts’ team tracked participants’ exposure to the chemical and then examined death records to see who died of ALS. They discovered that men who were regularly exposed to formaldehyde were three times more likely to die of ALS when compared to men who had not been exposed to the chemical.
Furthermore, the study showed that the risk of developing ALS went up with increased exposure to formaldehyde. In other words, the more a man is exposed to the chemical, the more likely they are to develop Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We found that, in those jobs in which their likelihood for exposure to formaldehyde was high and the amount of formaldehyde they were exposed to was also high, those people were at four times greater risk of dying of ALS than people with no job related to formaldehyde exposure,” Roberts said.
The National Funeral Directors Association says it has become aware of the threat and insists it is taking the study “very seriously.” The association is currently recommending its members take more caution when using formaldehyde and to limit their exposure by ventilating rooms when the chemical is used.
Interestingly, women who were exposed to the chemical did not see their risk of ALS increase as a result.