If you had to guess an occupation in which a worker has a high chance of being exposed to formaldehyde, your first answer would probably be a funeral director. You wouldn’t be wrong either. Formaldehyde has been used for decades in the embalming process, exposing funeral directors to a chemical that wasn’t considered a carcinogen until 1987 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Although scientists and doctors are well aware of the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure, not much is known about its long-term effects. That’s why studies, such as the one that was recently published in the “Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry,” are so important because they give us an insight into potentially harmful health conditions that can develop in workers who are constantly exposed to the chemical.
Because formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, it has a high probability of causing cancer in those who have high or prolonged exposure to it. It’s because of this that some researchers wondered if it could be responsible for other illnesses as well. According to the study we mentioned above, the answer is yes and the disease is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Though the study could not conclude that formaldehyde caused ALS to develop, researchers do believe it could have played a role in the deaths of many funeral directors across the nation, particularly those who were exposed to the chemical over time. Their research concluded that funeral directors have a high risk of dying from ALS.
As some of our Peoria readers know, workers who develop occupational diseases during the course of work may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, provided they can prove that there was a “causal connection between the conditions under which the work [was] performed and the occupational disease.” With the support of the study above, this may be a possibility for funeral directors in Illinois.
Sources: TIME, “Why Funeral Directors May Be at Higher Risk for ALS,” Mandy Oaklander, July 14, 2015
The National Cancer Institute, “Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk,” Accessed Sept. 18, 2015
The Illinois General Assembly, “Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act, 820 ILCS 310/1 (d),” Accessed Sept. 18, 2015