At least 13 deaths have been linked to paint strippers containing the chemical, methylene chloride. The deaths involve workers refinishing bathtubs who were exposed to the chemical, which is used in products that strip surfaces of paint and other finishes.
As we’ve mentioned, methylene chloride is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a hazardous air pollutant. Methylene chloride is a highly volatile, colorless, and toxic chemical commonly used as a degreaser and paint stripper, and is also used outside of industry in a number of over-the-counter products found at home improvement stores, Michigan State University News (MSU News) explained. Vapors released by methylene chloride are heavier than air and most likely stay in bathtubs after application, presenting increased danger to workers using a paint-stripping product, MSU News noted.
The research, initiated by Michigan State University in 2011, revealed that 13 deaths since 2000 all involved the use of methylene chloride-containing paint stripping products, said MSU News. “To use products containing methylene chloride safely, work areas must be well-ventilated, and when levels of methylene chloride exceed recommended exposure limits, workers must use protective equipment,” Kenneth Rosenman, chief of MSU’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the College of Human Medicine, told MSU News. “In a small bathroom, it is unlikely these products can be used safely,” Rosenman added.
Previously deemed a potentially fatal occupational hazard in furniture strippers and factory workers, this is the first time methylene chloride has been identified as a hazard to bathtub refinishers, according to a just-released report issued by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“The extreme hazards of using products with this chemical in bathtub refinishing need to be clearly communicated to employers, workers, and the general public,” Rosenman told MSU News, adding that “Safer methods using alternative products should be recommended.” Rosenman and MSU colleague Debra Chester, who co-wrote the CDC alert, advised bathtub refinishers in Michigan and product makers of their study findings; a warning to the general public is planned, noted MSU News.
MSU’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s program researches work-related deaths and looks for ways in which to prevent those deaths. After notifying the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 13 deaths in nine states were identified since April 2000. Another recent death is being investigated for potential links to the chemical, said MSU News.
The team recommends that manufacturers make an indication on products containing methylene chloride that the products should not be used in applications such as bathtub refinishing. The team also recommends that manufacturers of these products consider restricting product access.
The report also points out that the number of deaths is probably an underestimate since national databases exclude self-employed workers or consumers. Other deaths among bathtub refinishers might also have been incorrectly blamed on heart disease, MSU News pointed out.