New study finds chemical fumes may damage brain

Published On: May 12 2014 02:35:41 PM EDT   Updated On: May 12 2014 04:00:00 PM EDT

If you're a painter or someone who works with glue or a degreaser, you may not experience the damaging effects of the fumes you're breathing for years to come. A new study finds people exposed to things like paint, glue, or degreaser fumes may experience memory and thinking problems decades later.

"With this type of exposure it's not big exposures that cause problems right away, it's little exposures that occur over time that then lead people to have memory problems later in life," explained Cleveland Clinic brain health expert Dr. Javier Provencio, who did not take part in the study.

Harvard researchers followed more than 2,100 retirees who worked for a french national utility company.  26% of the workers spent years exposing themselves to benzene, which is used to make things like plastics, rubber, dyes, and detergents.  33% of the workers were exposed to chlorinated solvents, which can be found in dry cleaning solutions, engine cleaners, paint removers, and degreasers.  25% of the workers were exposed to petroleum solvents, which are used in carpet glue, furniture polish, paint, paint thinner, and varnish.

Results show people with high exposure to these chemicals were 65% more likely to have impaired scores on memory and thinking tests, especially if they were exposed in the last 12 to 30 years. Researchers say people who work with these types of chemicals every day may benefit from regular cognitive screening to catch problems early. Provencio says people who work with these chemicals should take precautions.

"Ideally what you'd like to do is find some way to protect people from being exposed to these fumes. There are masks, there are all kinds of containment devices that could, in theory, be helpful," said Provencio.

Complete findings for the study "Solvents and Retirement" can be found in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.


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