The People's Perspective on Medicine

Formaldehyde Exposure May Boost Risk of ALS

Could excess formaldehyde exposure in embalming fluid make funeral directors more susceptible to Lou Gehrig's disease?
Wheel chair

Epidemiologists reviewing occupations and the risk of disease got a surprise: Morticians appear to be at much higher risk of developing a rare but devastating neurological condition called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This rare condition is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the neurons that connect to muscles and make movement possible. Eventually, people with the condition are unable to move or even speak or eat. The disease is almost always fatal.

The investigators at Harvard found that funeral directors were 4.5 times more likely to die of ALS than other men. They suspect that the high levels of formaldehyde used in the embalming process could be responsible. The National Funeral Directors Association takes this risk seriously and urges its members to use proper precautions to protect themselves from excess formaldehyde exposure.

The epidemiological link is not proof that formaldehyde exposure causes ALS, but it is a clue that will warrant further research.

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, July 13, 2015

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I would be curious about this. My father passed away as a result of developing ALS.

He was an extremely fit and health-conscious man who exercised, walked for long every day, ate vegetarian all his life. Somehow after my mother’s death, within 4-5 years, he developed signs of ALS, and within 6 months went from a healthy 67-year old to a frail 68 year-old losing almost 40 pounds in 3 months, then being bed-ridden and eventually ending up on a ventilator.

We never could understand why, in spite of his good habits, he developed ALS and wonder if his job had anything to do with it.

He worked as an engineer originally and then eventually as a manager for an Indian airline. He was responsible for the Chair overhaul Division and I would now (after reading the above) be curious to know if they used formaldehyde or one of its derivatives in his line of work. Primarily working on Airbus and Boeing seats. Anyone know about that ?

It is not just funeral directors that are at risk of exposure over long periods of time, to formaldehyde… in the beauty industry, there are a plethora of products containing various levels of formaldehyde, with the sale’s pitch that they smooth and straighten hair, but unbenounced to the consumer, the ‘suspension of cells’ is first experienced through the application of the product, then breathing in the fumes through blow drying, followed by flat ironing at 350 degrees and above… formaldehyde is not diluted by water or potency lessened by heat!~and then they hug their kids… who knows who is being exposed more, but everyone in the vicinity in a salon, are a whole lot of people with families…

When scientists and doctors have strict protocols regarding formaldehyde, how is it possible that the buck stops there?!? The NIEH recently won in court (against the Koch brothers), which deemed formaldehyde a human carcinogen~why is it taking so long to come full circle???

I have read that activated charcoal is moderately effective at removing formaldehyde, so it might at least help for morticians to take some charcoal on the days when they are most exposed to formaldehyde.

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