CDC: 13 Deaths Linked to Bath Refinishing Chemical

Methylene chloride vapor has been recognized as potentially fatal to furniture strippers and factory workers but has not been reported previously as a cause of death among bathtub refinishers.

CDC recently issued a warning about using a common paint-stripping chemical to refinish bathtubs after tying it to 13 deaths in 10 states.

In 2010, the Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program conducted an investigation into the death of a bathtub refinisher who used a methylene chloride-based paint stripping product marketed for use in aircraft maintenance. The program identified two earlier, similar deaths in Michigan. Program staff members notified NIOSH, which in turn notified OSHA.

In addition to the three deaths, OSHA identified 10 other bathtub refinisher fatalities associated with methylene chloride stripping agents that had been investigated in nine states during 2000-2011. Each death occurred in a residential bathroom with inadequate ventilation. Protective equipment, including a respirator, either was not used or was inadequate to protect against methylene chloride vapor, which has been recognized as potentially fatal to furniture strippers and factory workers but has not been reported previously as a cause of death among bathtub refinishers.

Worker safety agencies, public health agencies, methylene chloride-based stripper manufacturers, and trade organizations should communicate the extreme hazards of using methylene chloride-based stripping products in bathtub refinishing to employers, workers, and consumers, NIOSH advises. Employers should strongly consider alternative methods of bathtub stripping and always ensure worker safety protections that reduce the risk for health hazards to acceptable levels. Employers choosing to use methylene chloride–based stripping products must comply with OSHA's standard to limit methylene chloride exposures to safe levels.

Methylene chloride is a highly volatile, colorless, toxic chemical that is widely used as a degreaser, process catalyst, and paint remover. Because methylene chloride vapors are heavier than air, in the case described in this report they likely remained in the bathtub after application. To use products containing methylene chloride safely, work areas must be well-ventilated, and when levels of methylene chloride exceed exposure limits even after implementation of engineering and work practice controls, workers must use respiratory protective equipment, such as tight-fitting, full-face, supplied-air respirators.

OSHA's standard for methylene chloride, which was promulgated in 1997, covers all occupational exposures to the chemical (e.g., general industry, shipyard employment, and construction). The standard mandates that air monitoring, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and personal protective equipment be in place where methylene chloride is used.

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