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Men exposed to extremely low EMFs at work may face increased risk of ALS: study

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Utrecht, The Netherlands – On-the-job exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields may double men’s risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, according to a new study from researchers in The Netherlands.

Occupations that carry increased risk are “essentially jobs where workers are placed in close proximity to appliances that use a lot of electricity. These include electric line installers, repairers and cable jointers; welders; and sewing machine operators,” study author Roel Vermeulen wrote in an email to Safety+Health.

Vermeulen and his team analyzed a random selection of data – about 4,000 men and women – from the Netherlands Cohort Study. Participants were 55 to 69 years old upon enrollment in 1986. Data indicated that 76 males and 60 females had died of ALS.

The researchers used an employment history questionnaire to create job exposure matrices that estimated occupational exposure to metals, electrical shocks, extremely low-frequency EMFs, pesticides and solvents. Then, they employed Cox regression models to determine associations between participants who had been exposed to extremely low-frequency EMFs and those who had not, as well as cumulative exposure and ALS mortality.

The researchers accounted for variables such as smoking habits, education level, physical activity and body mass index, and tracked ALS mortality for 17 years. They found that men with high occupational exposure to extremely low-frequency EMFs were 2.19 times more likely to develop ALS than those who had not been exposed. Participants in the top 30 percent of cumulative exposure also were nearly twice as likely to develop ALS, they said.

“The researchers conclude that their findings strengthen the evidence suggesting that ALS may be linked to workplace exposure to extremely low electromagnetic fields,” a March 29 press release states.

Flaws in previous supporting research had created doubt, they added.

The study was published online March 29 in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

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