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Study: Benzene exposure leads to decreased cognitive functioning

A new study has found that workers who are exposed to the chemical benzene during the course of their work are likely to suffer a decline in their cognitive functioning. Interestingly, workers who were well-educated experienced a less significant impact on their cognition than those who had undergone fewer years of schooling.

We have previously written about the multiple personal injury lawsuits that have been filed against Shell Oil and several other defendants by the town of Roxana, Illinois and several of its residents. Although the lawsuit concerns benzene run-off and not exposure during the course of employment, the results of the study are still applicable to the residents of Roxana and their legal claims.

The study administered a cognitive test to more than 4,000 gas and electric workers. Researchers found that not only was benzene exposure greater among workers with "low educational attainment," but also that the members of that group were more likely to be cognitively impaired as a result of that exposure than their better-educated peers.

According to researcher Erika Sabbath, the study adds further credibility to the notion that education has many practical benefits beyond simply learning math or spelling. The results of the study seem to indicate that "education tends to give people an extra layer of protection" against the harmful effects of benzene exposure.

"This paper suggests that the earlier part of life may be a very sensitive time to build up cognitive reserve," she says, "and could bolster arguments that keeping kids in school could have additional positive effects on health."

Source: MedPage Today, "Solvent Exposure Associated with Cognitive Losses," Rita Baron-Faust, May 29, 2012

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