May 13, 2014 — Neurology has published a study suggesting that lifetime workplace exposure to common toxic chemicals is associated with impaired thinking and memory ability that can last for decades.
Conclusions were based on brain data from 2,143 retired male workers at a public utility in France. Most of the participants worked at the same company for their entire career, beginning in their teens or mid-20s and retiring on average at age 55.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a series of eight memory exercises. They found evidence of cognitive impairment from workplace exposure to toxic chemicals that occurred 30-50 years ago.
Not surprisingly, higher exposures in recent years was associated with worse brain damage. There was a 65% higher rate of cognitive impairment among workers with high exposure to chlorinated solvents in the last 12-30 years. These people had worse memory, visual attention, and task switching ability.
Chemicals evaluated in the study included:
- Benzene: Exposure in 26% of study participants. This chemical is used to manufacture plastics, rubber, dye, detergents, and synthetic materials.
- Chlorinated solvents: Exposure in 33% of study participants. These solvents are found in dry cleaning solutions, engine cleaner, paint remover, and degreaser.
- Petroleum solvents: Exposure in 25% of study participants. This solvent is used in carpet glue, furniture polish, paint, paint thinner, and varnish.
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