Methylene Chloride Fatalities
An investigative report published in September by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) examined fatal incidents related to the use of paint stripping products containing the solvent methylene chloride, a volatile, colorless liquid with a sweet-smelling odor. Methylene chloride has been linked to cancer, but it can also cause sudden death or asphyxiation. In recent years, methylene chloride has caused several deaths among workers engaged in refinishing bathtubs, prompting OSHA and NIOSH to issue a hazard alert in 2012. Methylene chloride is also found in many consumer paint stripping products. While the manufacturers’ labels on these products advise consumers to use them only in well-ventilated areas, CPI found no labels stating that overexposure could cause death. Information from the CPI report appears below.
Center for Public Integrity: “Common Solvent Keeps Killing Workers, Consumers” (September 2015).
From “Common Solvent Keeps Killing Workers, Consumers”: “Setting aside longer-term health concerns, such as cancer, the danger posed by methylene chloride is its one-two punch when [vapors] accumulate. Because it turns into carbon monoxide in the body, it can starve the heart of oxygen and prompt an attack. The chemical also acts as an anesthetic at high doses: Its victims slump over, no longer breathing, because the respiratory centers of their brains switch off. “An open flame, meanwhile, can transform methylene chloride to phosgene. That’s the poisonous gas used to deadly effect during World War I, responsible for more fatalities than chlorine and mustard gas combined.”
Editor's Note: Fumes vs. Vapors
The original wording from the Center for Public Integrity's report "Common Solvent Keeps Killing Workers, Consumers" mistakenly refers to "fumes" in a context where "vapors" is the correct term. The Synergist has corrected this error in the digital edition.
Unfortunately, the error found its way into the print version of the November issue. The Synergist regrets the error and will publish a correction in the December issue.
Ed Rutkowski, editor