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The things you keep in your garage might be making you sick

Research in America has suggested a link between exposure to chemicals typically stored in domestic garages and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), formerly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Specifically this link was noted in garages attached to houses. There was a much diminished risk associated with detached garages.

Those who own a garage will recognise the sort of items that get shunted into that space. It becomes home for everything you don’t want in your actual home: paint, solvents, pesticides and cleaners.

But out of sight is not necessarily out of mind and a team from the University of Michigan have used statistical analysis to reveal that the storage of chemicals — including petrol and petrol powered equipment, lawn care products, pesticides, paint and woodworking supplies — were significantly associated with ALS risk.

The same University has spent years investigating causes of this untreatable condition and have previously established links with the disease and exposure to agricultural pesticides and volatile organic compounds in the manufacturing industry. 

The team assessed exposures in the residential setting from a survey of more than 600 participants – both with and without ALS – most of whom reported storing a variety of items that were volatile with toxic components.

Explaining that storing chemicals in an attached garage was much more associated with risk, Stuart Batterman, Ph.D., senior author and professor of environmental health science at the U-M School of Public Health said: ‘Especially in colder climates, air in the garage tends to rush into the house when the entry door is opened, and air flows occur more or less continuously through small cracks and openings in walls and floors. Thus, it makes sense that keeping volatile chemicals in an attached garage shows the stronger effect.’

First author Stephen Goutman, M.D., M.S. said: ‘We are beginning to see risk factors across multiple settings that may associate with a greater ALS risk; we also see some relationships across the studies, for example, woodworking and woodworking supplies and gardening and lawn care supplies. This begs the question: is it the activities that associate with ALS risk or the exposures to related products? This requires further research.

However, he adds: ‘With each study, we better understand the types of exposures that increase the risk of developing ALS. We now need to build on these discoveries to understand how these exposures increase ALS risk. In parallel, we must continue to advocate to make ALS a reportable disease. Only then we will fully understand the array of exposures that increase disease risk.’

photo: writer’s own garage

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