Funeral industry workers at greater leukemia risk

Updated: Nov 21, 2009, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: Funeral industry workers are at a greater risk of getting leukemia because they are exposed to formaldehyde for long durations, a new study has claimed.

Formaldehyde is used for embalming in the funeral industry but researchers suggest the exposure to it can be dangerous.

Researchers at the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., who conducted the study, reached the conclusion after investigating the relation of mortality to work practices and formaldehyde exposure levels among these professionals.

The different causes behind the deaths of funeral industry workers between 1960 and 1986 was noted.

Researchers also compared those who died from lymphohematopoietic malignancies and brain tumors with those who died from other causes.

Lifetime work practices and exposures to formaldehyde were obtained by interviews with next of kin and coworkers.

Cancer risk was then linked to duration of employment, work practices, and estimated formaldehyde exposure levels in the funeral industry.

The number of years of embalming practice and related formaldehyde exposures were associated with statistically significantly increased mortality from myeloid leukaemia, with the greatest risk among those who practiced embalming for more than 20 years.

No associations were observed with other lymphohematopoietic malignancies; associations with brain cancer were unclear.

The authors wrote: "This study adds supporting and complementary data to other epidemiological evidence of an association between formaldehyde exposure and risk of myeloid leukemia.”

"Further studies of leukemia risk in relation to specific embalming practices and exposures, as well as similar specific exposure studies in other professional groups that are exposed to formaldehyde and that have an increased risk of leukaemia, should help to clarify our understanding of cancer risks related to formaldehyde."

The study was published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on 20th November.