Motor neuron disease mortality rates in U.S. states are associated with well water use

Gary G. Schwartz, Marilyn G. Klug

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease with an unknown cause and invariably fatal outcome. We sought to evaluate a correlation between motor neuron disease (MND) mortality rates and residential radon levels that was previously reported for counties in the United Kingdom. We examined the relationships between age-adjusted MND mortality rates in U.S. states with residential radon levels, well water use, and other variables using structural equation modeling. We observed a significant correlation between MND mortality rates and radon levels. However, in structural equation models, radon did not have a significant, direct effect on MND mortality rates. Conversely, MND mortality rates were significantly and directly predicted by race and by the percentage of the population of each state using well water (p < 0.001 and p = 0.022). We observed similar, significant effects for well water use and MND mortality for males and females separately (p < 0.05). In conclusion, we hypothesize that the association of MND mortality rates with well water use reflects contamination of wells with Legionella, a bacterium common in well water that is known to cause neurologic disease. A Legionella hypothesis is a biologically plausible cause of ALS and suggests new avenues for etiologic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-534
Number of pages7
JournalAmyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Degeneration
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Nov 16 2016


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Legionella
  • hypothesis
  • radon
  • well water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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