Research/studies Workplace exposures

Funeral directors may be at risk for ALS: study

Boston – Exposure to formaldehyde during the embalming process may put male funeral directors at increased risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, according to a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed national data and determined that male study participants with a high probability of exposure to formaldehyde during the embalming process were nearly 3 times as likely to die from ALS as participants with no predicted exposure. However, the findings did not hold true for female funeral directors.

Some experts cautioned against reading too much into the study.

“It’s important to note that no previous studies have found an association between formaldehyde exposure and ALS, something the authors acknowledge,” the Formaldehyde Panel of the American Chemistry Council said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the authors suggested additional research into the issue.

“In addition to formaldehyde, funeral directors are exposed to other chemicals used in embalming, as well as to viral, bacterial and prion pathogens,” the authors wrote in the study. “Thus, further study of the association of ALS with high levels of formaldehyde exposure and among funeral directors is warranted.”

The study was published online July 13 in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.