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CDC Links 13 Deaths to Paint Stripper

Friday, February 24, 2012

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Federal health officials have issued a warning about the use of the paint stripper methylene chloride after linking the chemical to more than a dozen accidental deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the warning Friday (Feb. 24) in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

 Methylene chloride was linked to 13 deaths in 2010 and 2011—a number that health officials believe may be under-reported

 Photos: Michigan State University

Methylene chloride was linked to 13 deaths in 2010 and 2011—a number that health officials believe may be under-reported.

At least 13 deaths were caused by excessive exposure to methylene chloride, the CDC said. In all of those cases, the chemical was being used to refinish bathtubs.

However, CDC has previously flagged methylene chloride as a potentially fatal occupational hazard, and the agency noted again that exposure to the chemical without proper ventilation and protective equipment can kill almost instantly.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has had methylene chloride standards in place since 1997.

10 Products, 9 States, 13 Deaths

The methylene chloride warnings stemmed from a 2011 investigation by Michigan State University’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the College of Human Medicine. The division traced 13 deaths in nine states in 2010-11 to the use of 10 different products containing methylene chloride.

The methylene chloride concentrations in the products ranged from 60 percent to 100 percent. The victims who were tested showed methylene chloride blood levels ranging from 18 to 223 mg/L; a level of <2 mg/L is expected in a person working within the OSHA allowable air standard for exposure to methylene chloride fumes.

 Ken Rosenman
Michigan State University’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine launched the investigation that led to the CDC warning. Division chief Ken Rosenman warns of “extreme hazards” in using methylene chloride products.

“The extreme hazards of using products with this chemical in bathtub refinishing need to be clearly communicated to employers, workers and the general public,” said division chief Ken Rosenman.  “Safer methods using alternative products should be recommended.”

Rosenman also thinks the 13 deaths might be under-reported. He says the symptoms of methylene chloride over-exposure—whether in an occupational or private setting—mimic those of a heart attack, so hospitals and emergency medical technicians may not recognize the link to the chemical.

OSHA Standards

Methylene chloride is a volatile, colorless liquid with a chloroform-like odor used in various industrial processes and in many different industries, including aviation and other paint stripping, paint remover manufacturing, and metal cleaning and degreasing.

Exposure mainly occurs through inhalation or through the skin.

OSHA standards require employers to determine employees’ exposure and to provide appropriate protection. The standard sets Permissible Exposure Limits as well as requirements for monitoring, medical evaluation, respiratory protection and other issues.

OSHA’s methylene chloride guidance says a review of the 1997 standard “clearly showed that the standard has been effective in saving lives.”


Tagged categories: Methylene chloride; OSHA; Paint and coatings removal; Solvents

Comment from RAMESHKUMAR RAMACHANDRAN, (2/27/2012, 3:18 AM)

It is terrible to learn the side effect of methylene chloride. Many chemical manufacturing companies does not reveal the extent of the usage of this deadly chemical in the stripper while selling this with the label 'PAINT STRIPPER'. While it is the concern to health and environment , considering the business perspective what will be the fastest method of removing paint from automobile parts.. having no erergy requirement as well as fast in action like Methylene chloride.

Comment from brian ofarrell, (2/27/2012, 7:07 AM)

The sale of this product should be controlled.

Comment from Dennis McGuffie, (2/27/2012, 9:46 AM)

Yes safeguards should be used when using a paint stripper with methylene chloride but for exterior or interior paint stripping a product with methylene chloride is the only product that will work successfully to remove multiple layers of paint.... but we should always keep the worker in mind and protect them under OSHA or EPA regs.

Comment from Kevin Sayler, (2/28/2012, 12:16 PM)

Note that only supplied air respirators are approved for protection against methylene chloride. Another important fact is the odor threshold for methylene chloride is reported to be greater than 155ppm (the EPA cites 250ppm), the 8-hour time weighted average exposure limit is 25ppm, well below the odor threshold. Be sure to have an exposure evaluation performed if working with this solvent. When looking at an MSDS remember that methylene chloride also goes by the name Dichloromethane.

Comment from Simon Hope, (2/29/2012, 3:42 AM)

It is worth noting that methylene chloride is not the only option for paint stripping. In the North Sea we have issues removing old lead based paints, many of which are 2 pack systems and the chemical strippers we use are not methylene chloride based for obvious safety reasons. There are far more ecologically acceptable materials which work supremely well with minimal risk to individuals and surrounding environment though there is a slight cost penalty which can be mitigated when the advantages of the methodology are analysed. Classic case of cheapest is not best!

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/5/2012, 10:02 AM)

Alternate chemical stripping approaches all have their own concerns. The caustic style strippers in particular have significant worker safety concerns. Typically, if it can strip paint it can also strip skin, and blind you.

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