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.
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.
|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.
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.”