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From Beauticians to Pharmacists:
The 12 Careers at Highest Risk for Motor Neuron Disease


Motor neuron diseases (MNDs) are a group of devastating illnesses that impact five per 100,000 people. The diseases, which include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease, destroy cells that control essential muscle activity.

nail polish

People who are regularly exposed to formaldehyde on the job are at an increased risk of ALS.

Eventually, muscle weakness, wasting away and uncontrollable twitching occurs, impacting everything from walking to speaking, breathing and swallowing.

The exact causes of MNDs are not entirely known, but it's thought that environmental, toxic, viral or genetic factors may play a role, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. For instance, a recent study in the American Journal of Human Genetics found that exposure to organophosphate pesticides may play a role.

Similarly, exposure to certain toxins while on the job may also increase your risk of motor neuron diseases like ALS.

The 12 Riskiest Careers

People in the following 12 professions are 2.5 to 4.3 times more likely to develop ALS than people in other careers, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

  1. Beauticians

  2. Pharmacists

  3. Morticians

  4. Chemists

  5. Laboratory technicians

  6. Physicians

  7. Veterinarians

  8. Dentists

  9. Firefighters

  10. Photographers

  11. Printers

  12. Nurses

What is the common denominator in this seemingly diverse list of jobs? High exposure to toxic substances, particularly formaldehyde, during much of the working hours.

Formaldehyde is More Common Than You Might Think

This strong-smelling gas is typically associated with embalming fluid or preservatives in medical labs, but those are far from the only places you'll find it.


Medium-density fiberboard (MDF), pictured in the room above, emits more formaldehyde fumes than any other pressed wood product, according to the EPA.

The primary ways people are exposed to this poisonous substance is by inhaling its vapors from the air or absorbing liquids that contain it through the skin. Here are some of the common sources that may be in your home:

  • Personal care products (shampoo, toothpaste, mascara, air fragrances, aftershave, cosmetics, nail polish)

  • "No-iron" durable-press clothing, fabrics and draperies

  • Plywood and particleboard used to build homes

  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) used for cabinets and furniture

  • Glues and adhesives

  • Paints and coatings

  • Certain insulation materials (urea-formaldehyde foam and fiberglass)

  • Automobile emissions

  • Emissions from burning wood, kerosene or natural gas

  • Cigarette smoke

Along with being linked to ALS, formaldehyde is also classified as a "probable human carcinogen" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And while people who are exposed to it while on the job, day-in and day-out, are clearly most at risk, as few as 0.1 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde in air can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, stuffy nose, nausea, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, skin rashes and allergic reactions, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

How Can You Protect Yourself?

If you happen to work in one of the 12 riskiest careers, short of changing your job you can try to minimize your exposure to formaldehyde by only using it in well-ventilated areas and using an air cleaning and purification system that utilizes natural "photocatalysis" process. One such system, PIONAIR, which we highly recommend, is especially effective against chemical vapors such as formaldehyde.

You can further reduce your exposure to formaldehyde in your home by following these tips from the EPA and CPSC:


Avoid the typical commercial cosmetics & personal care products, which contain multiple potentially toxic chemicals including for many formaldehyde. Use safe, natural cosmetics and body care products instead.

See List of Recommended Products Now

  • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers regularly (high temperatures and humidity increase formaldehyde emissions).

  • Make sure your home is well ventilated, especially after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.

  • Use an air cleaning and purification system in your home that utilizes natural "photocatalysis" process.

  • Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (they emit less formaldehyde) or avoid pressed wood products altogether.

  • Buy furniture or cabinets that are mostly laminated or coated (unlaminated, or raw, pressed wood panels generally emit more formaldehyde).

  • Wash durable-press fabrics before wearing them.

  • Opt for natural cosmetics and body care products -- see the list of available natural cosmetics now.

Recommended Reading

The 10 Best Careers -- By Starting Salary, Best Benefits, Job Satisfaction & More

New Study Finds Old Forgotten Head Injuries the Source of Many Mental/Emotional Issues


Journal of the American Medical Association May 28, 2008

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke May 29, 2008

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