CDC Links 13 Deaths To Toxic Paint-Stripping Chemical
February 25, 2012

CDC Links 13 Deaths To Toxic Paint-Stripping Chemical

Federal health officials issued a warning Friday against the use of a common paint-stripping chemical for the purpose of refinishing bathtubs after studies linked it to 13 deaths during the past 11 years.

The deaths, which took place in 10 states from 2000 through 2011, each occurred in a residential bathroom that was lacking adequate ventilation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) weekly report. The deaths were linked to 10 different products containing methylene chloride -- a substance not marketed for bathtub refinishing, Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) said on Friday.

According to the Reuters, each of the products contained between 60% and 100% of methylene chloride, a substance used in the aircraft industry as well as on wood, metal, glass, and masonry. The news agency describes the substance as "a highly volatile, colorless, toxic chemical that is commonly used as a degreaser and paint remover and absorbed primarily by inhaling the vapors."

"Each death occurred in a residential bathroom with inadequate ventilation," the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, according to the AP. "Protective equipment, including a respirator, either was not used or was inadequate to protect against methylene chloride vapor."

Methylene chloride can be found in products available online and in hardware stores, the CDC said, and has previously been established as potentially fatal to factory workers and furniture strippers, Reuters reported. The organization has recommended using alternate methods, such as sanding or using acetate, mineral spirits, or caustic paste in order to strip the bathtub instead of this toxic substance.

The investigation was launched at Michigan State University in 2011, the school said in a Thursday press release, adding that part of the risk is that methylene chloride vapors are heavier than air and are likely to remain in bathtubs long after their application.

"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 and co-author of the CDC's report, said in a statement.

"In a small bathroom, it is unlikely these products can be used safely," Rosenman, who co-wrote the advisory along with Michigan State industrial hygienist Debra Chester, added. "The extreme hazards of using products with this chemical in bathtub refinishing need to be clearly communicated to employers, workers and the general public“¦ Safer methods using alternative products should be recommended."


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