Common Garage Chemicals May Increase Risk of ALS

A new study revealed that people who keep gasoline, lawn care chemicals, or pesticides in their garage, especially if it's an attached garage, may be more likely to develop Lou Gehrig's disease.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), AKA Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive and deadly neurological condition that impacts neurons in the brain that control muscle movement. The disease causes worsening muscle weakness, cognitive changes, and eventually, death, typically within three years after symptoms start.

While genetics are likely a risk factor for ALS, environmental exposures to toxic substances like household chemicals may also play a role.

In a new study published in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Degeneration, researchers from the University of Michigan found yet another potential exposure that may raise ALS risks.

The team surveyed 367 people with ALS and 255 without the condition to determine the presence of environmental exposures in their homes.

After analyzing the data and assessing ALS risks, the researchers found that storing chemicals such as gasoline or kerosene, gas-powered equipment, woodworking supplies, and lawn care products in an attached garage was significantly associated with a higher risk of ALS.

However, keeping these chemicals in a detached garage was not as strongly associated with a heightened risk of Lou Gehrig's disease. This finding suggests that air flowing into the home via the attached garage may explain the higher risk for ALS among people who rent or own this type of residential setup.

The team suggests that ALS exposome, which is the accumulation of toxic chemical exposures over time, might be linked to specific activities such as woodworking or gardening. However, the chemical products used during these activities likely pose a risk, not the activity itself.

In light of the results, the scientists say that residential exposures may be an important modifiable risk factor for ALS.

In a press release, first author Stephen Goutman, M.D., M.S., the director of the Pranger ALS Clinic and associate director of the ALS Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan, said, "Identifying disease-provoking exposures can inform and motivate interventions to reduce exposure, risk and, ultimately, the ALS burden. Exposures in the home setting are an important part of the ALS exposome, as it is one place where behavior modifications could possibly lessen ALS risk."

Reducing garage chemical exposure

Although newer building codes have addressed the airflow issue that can occur between a home and an attached garage, many people in the United States may live in homes built some time ago, which may not meet these airflow requirements.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy suggests installing a continuous rigid air barrier and sealing all gaps or openings between the garage and living space to ensure garage air doesn't enter the home.

In addition, a person can relocate potentially toxic chemicals to an outside storage shed or other detached building to help reduce exposure.

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