Associations of self-reported occupational exposures and settings to ALS: a case-control study

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2022 May 20. doi: 10.1007/s00420-022-01874-4. Online ahead of print.


Background: Environmental exposures contribute to the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal and progressive neurological disease. Identification of these exposures is important for targeted screening and risk factor modification.

Objective: To identify occupational exposures that are associated with a higher risk of ALS using both survey and standard occupational classification (SOC) coding procedures, and to highlight how exposure surveys can complement SOC coding.

Methods: ALS participants and neurologically healthy controls recruited in Michigan completed a detailed exposure assessment on their four most recent and longest held occupations. Exposure scores were generated from the exposure survey, and occupations were assigned to SOC codes by experienced exposure scientists.

Results: This study included 381 ALS and 272 control participants. ALS participants reported higher duration-adjusted occupational exposure to particulate matter (OR = 1.45, 95% CI 1.19-1.78, p < 0.001), volatile organic compounds (OR = 1.22, 95% CI 1.02-1.45, p = 0.029), metals (OR = 1.48, 95% CI 1.21-1.82, p < 0.001), and combustion and diesel exhaust pollutants (OR = 1.20, 95% CI 1.01-1.43, p = 0.041) prior to ALS diagnosis, when adjusted for sex, age, and military service compared to controls. In multivariable models, only occupational exposure to metals remained significant risk (OR = 1.56, 95% CI 1.11-2.20, p = 0.011), although in an adaptive elastic net model, particulate matter (OR = 1.203), pesticides (OR = 1.015), and metals (1.334) were all selected as risk factors. Work in SOC code "Production Occupations" was associated with a higher ALS risk. SOC codes "Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations", "Construction and Extraction Occupations", "Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations", and "Production Occupations" were all associated with a higher exposure to metals as determined using survey data.

Discussion: Occupational exposure to particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, metals, pesticides, and combustion and diesel exhaust and employment in "Production Occupations" was associated with an increased ALS risk in this cohort.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Exposome; Metals; Occupation; Risk factors.