Occupational Health Watch: Preventing Worker Deaths from Solvents Containing Methylene Chloride

A 62-year-old paint maker died while cleaning a paint tank.  A 24-year-old maintenance worker died while stripping a church baptismal font.  Both were using paint strippers containing methylene chloride, a widely used solvent that can cause death and serious illness among workers and consumers in enclosed spaces. 

Methylene chloride is a cancer-causing chemical also used in the production of polymer foams and as a degreaser. 

Methylene chloride most often affects the central nervous system (the brain) causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, clumsiness, drowsiness, and other effects like those of drinking alcohol. At very high levels it can cause unconsciousness and death.

The Occupational Health Branch (OHB) of the California Department of Public Health has investigated the two worker deaths from overexposure to methylene chloride.  OHB also conducted a survey of hardware stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Both suggest that many consumers may not be aware that safer alternatives to methylene-chloride-containing paint strippers are available.  Whenever possible, OHB advises that employers, workers and consumers use the least toxic methods for paint removal.

OHB has created a new safer alternatives web page on preventing deaths from paint strippers containing methylene chloride. 


Fact sheets and other information

Choosing paint removal methods: Safety considerations (PDF)  Easy-to-use table and guide on how to choose the safest paint strippers

Methylene chloride is dangerous… there are safer alternatives! (PDF)  … Spanish   Hazard alert about the health effects of methylene chloride and safer paint stripper products

Methylene chloride (PDF)   Comprehensive fact sheet on the health effects of methylene chloride and how to reduce exposure

Survey of retail stores: Methylene chloride in paint strippers (PDF)  Survey of products available in hardware stores and whether consumers receive safety information

Investigation reports

Methylene chloride linked to worker death in tank (PDF)   |  Investigation Report (PDF)  A 62-year-old man died after cleaning a tank with a paint stripper containing methylene chloride

Methylene chloride linked to worker death in church (PDF)   |  Investigation Report (PDF)  A 24-year-old man died after applying a paint stripper to a baptismal font