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November 1977

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Toxic Hydrocarbons

Arch Neurol. 1977;34(11):721. doi:10.1001/archneur.1977.00500230091021

To the Editor.—  Recently, Crocker et al1 have shown that exposure to petroleum oil by-products can markedly enhance the pathogenicity of virus, raising the possibility that widespread use of chemicals of this kind might be a factor in causing lethal human viral disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease in which chemical poisoning and infection by virus are viewed as possible causes. Accordingly, a detailed inquiry was made into environmental contact with toxic chemicals in six ALS subjects (five men and one woman) with onset of disease in their mid-30s. The age of these subjects is generally considered young for ALS; and if toxic chemicals are important, contact with these likely would be relatively recent and possibly of greater degree than in older persons.The most common potentially injurious chemicals contacted were (1) liquid petrochemicals—solvents, fuels, and lubricants; (2) insecticides—notably pyrethrin and organophosphate anticholinesterase compounds; and (3) herbicides—especially (2,4-dichlorophenoxy)acetic