Hazard Alert: Methylene Chloride

In January 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a Hazard Alert regarding the use of methylene chloride during bathtub refinishing activities.  Since 2000, a total of 14 workers within this industry have died using products containing methylene chloride.

Methylene chloride or dichloromethane is categorized as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  It is in the carcinogen list from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and as a “Confirmed Animal Carcinogen with Unknown Relevance to Humans” by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).  Methylene chloride is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor.  This solvent is  used in paint removers, degreasers, metal cleaning, and as a blowing agent in foams.

Exposure to methylene chloride may cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.  It also may have more severe effects such as chemical burns, suffocation, loss of consciousness, coma, and sudden death.

The fatalities investigated by OSHA and NIOSH within the bathroom refinishing industry revealed these common denominators:

  • Refinishing products contained methylene chloride.
  • Working in small areas with poor or no ventilation.
  • Inadequate or no personal protective equipment (skin protection and/or respiratory protection).
  • Inadequate training related to methylene chloride hazards. 

It is recommended that employers using methylene chloride-containing products should:

  • Review and ensure compliance with the methylene chloride standard from OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1052.
  • If possible, do not use products containing methylene chloride.
  • Avoid using these types of products in enclosed areas with no ventilation.  Remember that bathroom exhaust vents are not considered local exhaust ventilation.  Do not rely on them for chemical exposure control.  Provide local exhaust ventilation and/or fresh air to limit the solvent concentration. 
  • Train employees about the hazards associated methylene chloride and how to recognize them.
  • As stated in a previous MEMIC’s safety blog, adopt good housekeeping practices.
  • Use the appropriate personal protective equipment when necessary (respirators, protective clothing, gloves, and eye protection).

Additionally, review the OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.1052 to see what the requirements are regarding exposure monitoring, regulated areas, methods of compliance, respiratory protection, protective work clothing and equipment, hygiene facilities, medical surveillance, hazard communication, employee training and recordkeeping.