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Solvent, paint exposure beyond moderate level could be a memory buster, says new study

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Extensive exposure to solvents, paints and glue may lead to memory issues later in life, says a new research report, though moderate exposure appears not to have such a damaging effect.

The study released Tuesday evaluated lifetime exposure among 2,143 utility workers in France who spent workdays dealing with petroleum solvents, benzene and chlorinated solvents. Of the group, 26 percent were exposed to benzene, 33 percent to chlorinated solvents and 25 percent to petroleum solvents.

"Our findings are particularly important because exposure to solvents is very common, even in industrialized countries like the United States," said study author Erika L. Sabbath, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The results state that cognitive impact among moderately exposed workers may subside over a period of time but that may not be the case for higher-exposure situations.

"This has implications for physicians working with formerly solvent-exposed patients as well as for workplace exposure limit policies," states the study.

During the study, the workers underwent eight tests of memory and cognitive thinking following retirement. Over half, 59 percent, showed impairment on one to three tests, while 23 percent showed impairment on four and more tests. Just 18 percent showed no impairment issues.

"The people with high exposure within the last 12 to 30 years showed impairment in almost all areas of memory and thinking, including those not usually associated with solvent exposure," Sabbath said.

"Solvents pose a real risk to the present and future cognitive health of workers, and as retirement ages go up, the length of time that people are exposed is going up, too."

The study was published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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