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Study links solvent exposure to cognitive problems among less educated

May 30, 2012

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Minneapolis – Workers with less than a high school education may be at higher risk for cognitive problems stemming from solvent exposure, concludes a study from Harvard University.

Researchers studied 4,134 workers at a French national gas and electric company who were exposed to chlorinated solvents, petroleum solvents, and benzene and non-benzene aromatic solvents during their careers, according to the study abstract.

Worker risk varied by type of solvent. Less-educated workers exposed to chlorinated and petroleum solvents were 14 times more likely to have cognitive problems than non-exposed workers. Participants exposed to benzene had a 24 percent higher chance problems, and those exposed to non-benzene aromatic solvents had a 36 percent higher chance, according to a press release from the American Academy of Neurology, which published the study.

Of the 58 percent who had less than a high school education, 32 percent displayed cognitive impairment in tests, compared with 16 percent of more educated participants, the press release stated.

Researchers speculated that more education provided a “buffer” that allowed the brain to maintain function despite damage.

The study appeared in the May 29 issue of Neurology.

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