California occupational safety officials have issued a Fatality Alert about methylene chloride paint strippers after a painter died in a tank while using the toxic solvent.
The Fatality Alert is the second in recent weeks to warn of the deadly dangers of methylene chloride strippers. On Feb. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a similar warning after linking the stripper to 13 accidental deaths in two years.
The new Alert comes from the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health and was issued under California’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (CA/FACE) program.
CA Department of Health
|The worker was removing dried paint inside a tank with a 2-by-7-foot opening (left). He was found unconscious at the bottom of 7-by-7-by-9-foot tank (right). A coworker was overcome by the toxic fumes when he attempted a rescue.|
Officials said the worker had been using a methylene chloride-based chemical stripper to remove dried paint from the inside of a 7 x 7 x 9-foot tank at a paint manufacturing company when he was overcome by fumes. The tank had a 2 x 7-foot opening at the top and was a permit-required confined space under California OSHA regulations.
A co-worker who found the victim unconscious at the bottom of the tank was also overcome when he attempted a rescue. Such confined-space rescue attempts are frequently fatal to an untrained would-be rescuer. In this case, the co-worker survived after being hospitalized and treated for methylene chloride poisoning.
Authorities did not identify either of the victims, their employer or the plant’s location.
Lack of Ventilation, Training Cited
Authorities said the space had not been adequately ventilated and the victim had not been trained in confined-space entry. Nor had an attendant been stationed at the tank entrance as required to monitor the worker inside.
The cause of death was asphyxia due to inhalation of dichloromethane (methylene chloride). Authorities said the stripper contained at least 60% methylene chloride, methanol and mineral spirits.
The victim was wearing a cartridge respirator that did not adequately protect against the solvent vapors, and “proper testing, entry and rescue procedures were not in place to prevent both workers from being overcome by toxic vapors,” the Fatality Alert said.
Federal OSHA has linked methylene chloride to more than 50 worker deaths since the mid-1980s, primarily from its use in poorly ventilated spaces, the Alert said. Many U.S. regulatory agencies consider the chemical a carcinogen, and it is banned from many uses in Europe.
The Fatality Alert advises employers to:
• Establish procedures to clean paint tanks more frequently with water-based materials, before the paint is cured;
• Use abrasive removal methods rather than chemical strippers to remove cured paint; and
• Train workers in confined-space safety and follow relevant OSHA regulations for such work, including providing proper ventilation, supplied air respiratory protection, air monitoring, communications, and means of rescue and retrieval.