Federal OSHA has identified at least 13 worker deaths since 2000 related to bathtub refinishing with stripping agents containing methylene chloride.
In the majority of the identified cases, the workers were working alone, in poorly ventilated bathrooms, with inadequate respiratory protection and little or no training on the hazards of the chemicals they were using. Michigan recently investigated one of these cases through its Fatality Assessment & Control Evaluation (FACE) program and issued a hazard alert to inform employers and workers. The alert highlights the hazards of working with methylene chloride-based stripping agents, safe work practices when using them and alternative paint stripping chemicals and processes.
Methylene chloride is a volatile solvent and cancer-causing chemical that is easily absorbed into the body through the lungs and skin. Short-term exposures to high levels of methylene chloride can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness and lack of coordination. The liver metabolizes methylene chloride to carbon monoxide, and elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the blood can cause heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms and sudden death. OSHA's methylene chloride standard (29 CFR 1910.1052) requires employers to control occupational exposure to methylene chloride through the use of exposure monitoring, engineering and work practices, respiratory protection and medical surveillance.
OSHA is collaborating with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to develop further guidance for employers and workers in the bathtub refinishing industry.