Common Household Chemicals Raise the Odds of Fatal Neurological Disease: Study


A study found that storing common household chemicals like pesticides and paints, especially in attached garages, is linked to a higher risk of ALS.

As homeowners gear up for summer renovation and repair projects, stocking up on paint, pesticides, and solvents, a new study suggests such activities could jeopardize neurological health.

University of Michigan researchers found a link between exposure to commonly used household chemicals and increased risk of developing the always-fatal disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease in the United States.

It’s a buildup of these exposures over time, dubbed the “ALS exposome,” that appears to be the culprit—potentially stemming from pastimes like woodworking and gardening. However, ALS has no confirmed cause.

In ALS, motor nerve cells called neurons die, meaning they cease to send messages to muscles. This process eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching, and a gradual inability to move the body. The condition is progressive, and life expectancy for those diagnosed varies widely—from two to 10 years or longer.

There is no cure, but there are two drugs available to help slow symptom progression and possibly extend patients’ lives slightly: riluzole and edaravone.

The number of people with ALS is expected to increase by over 30 percent in the coming decades, from 80,162 in 2015 to 105,693 in 2040, according to estimates from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that, on average, 5,000 patients in the country are newly diagnosed with ALS every year.

Identified risk factors include having a close relative with the disease, as up to 10 percent of ALS patients inherit a risk gene from a family member. Having a relative with frontotemporal dementia can also increase the likelihood of developing ALS, as the C9orf72 gene mutation may cause both conditions.

 However, there is evidence that—similar to Parkinson’s disease—exposure to certain chemicals can strongly influence the risk of developing ALS.

The More Chemicals Stored, the Greater the Risk

The more toxic household chemicals someone stores in their garage, such as those used for woodworking, painting, car repair, and pest control, the higher their risk of developing ALS, according to a University of Michigan study published in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Degeneration.

In 2016, a research team from the same university found that people living with ALS had higher concentrations of pesticides in their blood compared to those without the progressive neurological condition, according to findings published in JAMA Neurology.

A more recent 2019 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, conducted by the same team, found that exposure to organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was linked to worsening survival rates for ALS patients. That is, the chemicals both increase the risk of ALS in healthy people and exacerbate the symptoms for those already diagnosed with the condition.

For their latest research, scientists analyzed residential exposures using data from a survey of over 600 participants with and without an ALS diagnosis. Through statistical analysis, they found that storing certain chemicals—including gasoline, gas-powered equipment, lawn care products like weed killers, pesticides, and paint and woodworking supplies—was significantly associated with an increased risk of developing ALS and shorter survival times for those already diagnosed.

Attached Garages Pose Greatest Danger

All the chemicals reported as linked to ALS development were volatile and contained toxic components, the researchers noted.

 Most study participants stored several of these items in an attached garage. However, those who reported storing the chemicals in a detached garage didn’t show as strong an association with increased ALS risk.

The researchers believe the flow of air and airborne pollutants from attached garages into living spaces could explain this finding.

“Especially in colder climates, air in the garage tends to rush into the house when the entry door is opened, and air flows occur more or less continuously through small cracks and openings in walls and floors,” Stuart Batterman, professor of environmental health sciences and senior author of the study, said in a press release.

More Research Needed on Toxin Exposures

Mr. Batterman told The Epoch Times that his studies continue to demonstrate that exposures to environmental toxins play a significant role in both the risk and progression of ALS.

“We show the combined effect of multiple toxins is greater than the effects of an individual toxin,” he added.

The most recent findings mean further work is needed to better understand how the ALS exposome influences disease risk and how this knowledge can eventually inform ALS treatment and prevention strategies, Mr. Batterman said.

“Overall, we think that the collective effect of environmental toxins, exposures, and lifestyle factors—the exposome—plays a very significant role in increasing ALS risk,” he said.

The researchers are not yet at a stage where they can quantify the exact percentage of risk that each toxin or group of toxins plays in ALS. “This is obviously an important question,” Mr. Batterman noted.

Similarly, the exact mechanism linking pesticide exposure to ALS risk is “not yet elucidated, and further research on this topic is encouraged,” he said.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at  by George Citroner where all credits are due.


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