Long-term exposure to formaldehyde increases risk of cognitive issues, study finds

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Experts are worried about the long-lasting effects of chemical exposure

A new study conducted by researchers from the American Academy of Neurology explored the risks associated with exposure to formaldehyde. Their findings showed that consumers may have a higher risk of cognitive impairment later in life if they are regularly exposed to the chemical

“We know that exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to certain cancers, and our results suggest that exposure to low amounts of formaldehyde also may be associated with lower levels of cognitive functioning,” said researcher Noemie Letellier, Ph.D. “People whose work exposes them to formaldehyde may want to take precautions, and companies may want to look at ways to reduce workers’ exposure to the hazardous chemical.” 

Long-term cognitive risks

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 75,000 people in France enrolled in the CONSTANCES study. Participants reported on their formaldehyde exposure while at work and completed cognitive assessments throughout the study. 

Ultimately, less than 10% of the participants were exposed to formaldehyde while at work. However, those who were exposed to the chemical had a nearly 20% higher risk of struggling with cognitive function. This was true for all of the different measures of cognition, including memory, executive function, and language abilities. 

The researchers found that a higher rate of exposure led to a higher risk of cognitive decline. Those who spent 22 or more years exposed to the chemical at work were over 20% more likely to develop cognitive complications. Carpenters, nurses, and medical technicians were some of the most common workers that experienced formaldehyde exposure. 

The researchers hope more work is done to reduce exposure to formaldehyde so that consumers can avoid health risks. 

“The use of formaldehyde has decreased over the last few decades; however, our results highlight the fact that there are still thousands of people whose work exposes them to the chemical, and they may face the risk of cognitive impairment later because of it,” Letellier said. 

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