Job Exposure to Lead Linked to Lou Gehrig's Disease

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 21 May 2002
Time: 13:02:52
Remote Name:


Thu May 9, 1:31 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People with a history of on-the-job exposure to the heavy metal lead may be at twice the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which strikes about 1 or 2 in every 100,000 people in the United States. ALS is often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease (news - web sites), after the famed New York Yankees baseball player who died from the disease in 1941 at the age of 38. 

Previous research has suggested a possible association between exposure to heavy metals, particularly lead, and ALS, but a true cause-and-effect relationship remains unclear, according to Dr. Freya Kamel of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and colleagues. 

To investigate, Kamel and her team evaluated lead exposure in 109 patients diagnosed with ALS and 256 healthy individuals. All study participants completed extensive questionnaires that assessed lead exposure and lifestyle habits, such as smoking, sleeping, eating and alcohol consumption. The researchers report their findings in the May issue of the journal Epidemiology. 

While Kamel and colleagues found that self-reported occupational lead exposure increased a person's risk of ALS by 1.9 times, residential or recreational exposure to lead was not associated with the illness. Recreational activities involving possible lead exposure include hunting, skeet shooting, fishing with lead weights, and ceramics. 

More ALS patients than healthy people reported that they had been exposed to lead fumes, dust or particles at work 10 or more times. "Previous studies have suggested that lead exposure is associated with ALS, and a role for lead in ALS pathophysiology is plausible. Thus, the hypothesis that lead exposure plays a role in the (development) of ALS deserves further consideration," the authors conclude. 

SOURCE: Epidemiology 2002;13:311-319.

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