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November 15, 2011

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Industrial solvent linked to increased risk of Parkinson’s disease

A substance that is still commonly used in the manufacturing and engineering  sectors to clean metal parts has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease among workers exposed to it.

A group of international researchers found a six-fold increase in the risk of developing the neurological condition among those who had worked with trichloroethylene (TCE) – also known as ‘trike’.

Although its use has been banned for years in many parts of the world – it was classified as a Category 2 carcinogen by the EU in 2001 – the solvent is still used as a degreasing agent. Moreover, the researchers determined a latency period of up to 40 years between exposure to TCE and the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

The research, which is published in the journal Annals of Neurology, was based on analysis of 99 pairs of twins – one twin with Parkinson’s, the other without – who were born between 1917 and 1927. The subjects were interviewed to determine their work history and likely exposure to solvents. They were also asked about hobbies.

The findings included a “significant association” between TCE exposure and Parkinson’s, such that the solvent was likely to result in a six-fold increase in the chances of developing the disease. Sufferers experience tremors, rigidity and slowness of movement, and the condition degenerates over time. There is currently no known cure.

Dr Samuel Goldman, of the Parkinson’s Institute in California, who co-led the study, said: “Our study confirms that common environmental contaminants may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s [and] our findings, as well as prior case reports, suggest a lag of time of up to 40 years between TCE exposure and the onset of Parkinson’s, providing a critical window of opportunity to potentially slow the disease before clinical symptoms appear.”

Dr Michelle Gardner, research development manager at the charity Parkinson’s UK, said it was important to remember that many of the previous uses of TCE have been discontinued for more than 30 years and that safety and protection in workplaces where it is used have greatly improved.

She added: “Low levels of this solvent and other solvents are found in the environment from industrial and other emissions but this study only examined heavy exposure at work. Further, large-scale studies on populations with more defined exposures are needed to confirm the link.”

The study also examined exposure to five other solvents: perchloroethylene (PERC), which is used in dry cleaning and degreasing, and is found in many household products, and carbon tetrachloride (CCI4), used as a refrigerant and fumigant, were both found to “tend towards significant risk of developing Parkinson’s disease”, while no statistical link was found with regard to toluene, xylene and n-hexane.

In a landmark decision in July this year, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of a former RAF corporal who was diagnosed with a neurological condition associated with Parkinson’s following exposure to solvents, including TCE, while working as a painter and finisher at various RAF sites in the UK and abroad.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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12 years ago

Danish research linked painters’ exposure to solvents with senile dementia decades ago