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Published on Sep 22, 2016
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) describes methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane, as a volatile, colorless liquid with a chloroform-like odor. The agency reports that the chemical compound is used in various industrial processes, in many different industries including paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint remover manufacturing, and metal cleaning and degreasing.
Exposure can occur by drinking contaminated water, but OSHA states that the most common means of exposure to methylene chloride is through inhalation and skin exposure. OSHA considers methylene chloride to be a potential occupational carcinogen and the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that it may cause cancer in humans.
Several years ago, OSHA and NIOSH published a hazard alert about “Methylene Chloride Hazards for Bathtub Refinishers.” The document states that if workers smell methylene chloride, they are being overexposed because methylene chloride cannot be smelled until the levels in the air are higher than OSHA's permissible exposure limits (PELs). However, the human body can quickly become desensitized to the smell of methylene chloride, and workers may be overexposed even if they can no longer smell it.
The hazard alert goes on to report that when methylene chloride enters the human body, it affects brain function, such as not being able to concentrate. At high enough levels, it can stop breathing. At lower levels, methylene chloride exposure causes dizziness, fatigue, headaches and nausea. Exposure can also cause eye, nose and throat irritation. Prolonged skin contact may cause irritation and even chemical burns.
The specific effects of methylene chloride exposure can vary depending on several factors, such as the amount of methylene chloride the worker is exposed to, how long the exposure lasts and whether the worker has a higher susceptibility due to other conditions.
These are just a few things to know about occupational methylene chloride exposure concerns. To learn more about this or other health and safety, occupational, environmental or air quality issues, please visit the websites shown below.