Textile industry chemicals, such as flame retardants, have been linked to lung cancer in research that was published earlier this month.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that a group of chemical pollutants, such for example formaldehyde, can be detected in textile industry dust, causing an increase in the risk of lung cancer.
This has not been previously documented in the literature, said the authors, and has previously been found in human exposure to the chemical, such from asbestos exposure.
The researchers found that exposure to formaldehyde increases lung cancer risk by more than 3,000 times.
While formaldehyde can be found in the soil, the amount it can cause in the lungs can be much higher, and this is where it becomes problematic, said lead author Tania Jernigan, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Technology.
“Formaldehyde is a very potent, carcinogenic chemical that can affect the central nervous system, especially the brain, and the immune system,” Jernigan said.
Jernigan and her colleagues found that formaldehyde levels in dust samples from manufacturing plants were 1,000-fold higher than the amount found in indoor air.
In one sample, they found formaldehyde concentrations above 100,000 parts per million.
The researchers said they had no explanation for the link.
There are other chemicals that can also be found on textile production sites, like asbestos, and these compounds have been implicated in lung cancer, but this is the first time we have found a link to lung damage from formaldehyde in the textile industry,” Jerenigan said.
The team said that they hope to investigate the possibility that formaldehydes might increase the risk for lung cancer after asbestos exposure, but they also noted that their study had limitations, including its limited sampling period.”
The limitations of this study, and other studies of dust exposure in the past, are that the dust sample was collected in a factory, so there are only limited exposure measurements that could be made, and we only have limited ability to examine the level of formaldehyde and the lung cancer risks associated with formaldehyde exposure,” Jervigan said, adding that there was a need to expand the study to include other environmental factors and to more accurately measure formaldehyde’s effect on lung health.