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Chemical & Biological Hazards Project

Methylene Chloride used in bathtub refinishing

Methylene chloride (MC), also known as dichloromethane (DCM), is an industrial solvent and effective paint stripper.   It is found in both industrial and consumer products, and has extensive OSHA safety regulations.

Between 2000 and 2011, exposure to methylene chloride-based paint strippers caused 13 deaths in bathtub refinishers across 10 states, with some of these deaths resulting from less than 90 minutes of exposure to methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is highly volatile and easy to inhale, with vapors that are heavier than air. As a result, the vapors sink and collect low inside the bathtub where the refinisher is working and breathing. Additionally, bathtub refinishers often work alone in small bathroom spaces with limited or no ventilation. Methylene chloride’s heavier-than-air chemical properties, it’s toxicity, and the working conditions combine to make bathtub refinishing with methylene chloride -based products a very hazardous task. Beyond the immediate fatal health effects, long term health effects from exposure to methylene chloride include cancer, depression of respiratory function, and central nervous system damage. Additional effects include skin burns and skin irritation.

While ventilation and personal protective equipment (PPE) can reduce a worker’s risks when used correctly, some experts argue that methylene chloride-based strippers cannot be used safely under the conditions bathtub refinishers work under. In the European Union, the use of methylene chloride-based paint strippers outside of a controlled industrial setting were banned in 2009. To identify if a product contains methylene chloride (CAS number 75-09-2), review the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or active ingredients on the product label.

Alternatives to methylene chloride-based paint strippers

SHARP has profiled two businesses who use safer alternatives to methylene chloride-based paint strippers. One business successfully uses a benzyl alcohol-based chemical stripper and the other relies on mechanical scraping and sanding for finish removal. Be aware that some alternative products advertised as “safer” still contain hazardous substances, such as N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), a known reproductive hazard. Products containing NMP are not recommended. All chemicals in paint stripping and refinishing have hazards, be sure to read the product’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

SHARP Publications

Additional Resources

If you are located in Washington State, you can contact the Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program at Labor & Industries for more help. The SHARP program can provide assistance regarding workplace exposures. Contact SHARP at 1‑888‑667‑4277 or SHARP@Lni.wa.gov.

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