People exposed to formaldehyde at work can have cognitive problems

People exposed to formaldehyde at work, like nurses and cleaners, have a 17% higher risk of having thinking and memory problems compared to those who do not handle the toxic gas, study finds

  •  Formaldehyde is a pungent-smelling colorless gas that is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant
  • A new study finds exposure to formaldehyde can lead to cognitive 
  •  The study was conducted among 75,322 people in France with an average age of 25 and 6,026 of the participants worked with formaldehyde
  • Researchers conducted several cognitive tests with the participants involving word recall, memory, attention, reasoning and other thinking skills
  • Those exposed to formaldehyde on the job had, on average, a 17% higher risk of having thinking and memory problems than those not exposed

People working in agriculture, construction, hospitals and other jobs that expose them to formaldehyde may suffer cognitive problems, a new study reveals.

Formaldehyde is a pungent-smelling colorless gas that is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant.

A team of scientists led by the University of Montpellier in France found people exposed to the gas score lower on cognitive tests than those who do not breathing in the potentially toxic fumes.

The study was conducted among 75,322 people in France with an average age of 25 and 6,026 of the participants worked with formaldehyde. 

Following several cognitive tests, researchers found people who were exposed to formaldehyde on the job had, on average, a 17 percent higher risk of having thinking and memory problems compared to those who were not exposed. 

Their occupations included nurses, caregivers, medical technicians, workers in the textile, chemistry and metal industries, carpenters and cleaners.

Following several cognitive tests, researchers found people who were exposed to formaldehyde on the job had, on average, a 17 percent higher risk of having thinking and memory problems compared to those who were not exposed

Noemie Letellier, Ph.D., of the University of Montpellier in France, said in a statement: ‘We know that exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to certain cancers, and our results suggest that exposure to low amounts of formaldehyde also may be associated with lower level of cognitive functioning. 

‘People whose work exposes them to formaldehyde may want to take precautions, and companies may want to look at ways to reduce workers’ exposure to the hazardous chemical.’ 

To begin the research, participants were first organized into three equal groups according to their years of exposure to formaldehyde.

The ‘low’ group was considered six or fewer years, medium was seven to 21 years, and high was 22 or more years. 

The study was conducted among 75,322 people in France with an average age of 25 and 6,026 of the participants worked with formaldehyde. Their occupations included nurses, caregivers, medical technicians, workers in the textile, chemistry and metal industries, carpenters and cleaners

Participants were also split into three groups depending on their cumulative exposure, which is the total amount of formaldehyde a person is exposed to over their lifetime based on the probability, intensity and frequency of exposure.

The researches used seven cognitive tests involving word recall, memory, attention, reasoning and other thinking skills, to assess each domain and to come up with a global cognitive score.

And those exposed to formaldehyde had a 17 percent risk of issues with every type of cognitive function the researchers tested.

One of the tests, for example, asked participants to match symbols to numbers according to a key located on the top of the page, and it had a maximum possible score of 135.

The group not exposed to formaldehyde had an average score of 66, compared to an average score of 63 in the group that was exposed to formaldehyde.

Workers who were exposed to formaldehyde for 22 years or longer had a 21 percent higher risk of global cognitive impairment compared to those who were never exposed. 

Workers with the highest cumulative exposure to formaldehyde had a 19 percent greater risk on average of having cognitive impairment compared to those who had not been exposed.

“The use of formaldehyde has decreased over the last few decades; however, our results highlight the fact that there are still thousands of people whose work exposes them to the chemical, and they may face the risk of cognitive impairment later because of it,” Letellier said.

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