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Editorial Note: When we think of chemical poison prevention, we often think of chemicals found in our households—ammonia, bleach, lead. But many chemicals exist and pose risk in both our homes and our workplaces. We are deeply saddened by the recent news of a Boston worker’s death, resulting from a warehouse ammonia leak. As you’ll see below, many chemical poisonings in both our homes and workplaces can be prevented. 

In Massachusetts, in 2004, a 43-year-old contractor hired to refinish a bathtub was found in the bathroom unconscious on the job, slumped over the tub. He had been stripping the bathtub surface with a methylene chloride-based product, and the bathroom did not have windows or exhaust ventilation. The victim died wearing a paper disposable mask.

Bathtub ImageSince 2000, at least 13 bathtub refinishers have died in similar ways around the country. And it’s not just bathtub refinishers who are at risk. Methylene chloride-based products are available over the counter to anyone in Massachusetts—both workers and do-it-yourselfers alike. California just released a digital story, with prevention recommendations, about three painters who nearly lost their lives while stripping paint inside a yacht.

 

National Poison Prevention Week – Protect Yourself from Chemicals

Did you know that poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.? Thankfully, we have a Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention that serves as an emergency hotline (1-800-222-1222) and resource for medical advice about exposures and poisonings from chemicals. This Poison Center receives nearly 40,000 calls each year in Massachusetts.

Methylene chloride is just one example of over 90,000 chemicals in use in U.S. industries.

Did you know? Methylene chloride is:

  • Colorless, volatile and toxic.
  • Absorbed primarily through breathing, but also through the skin.
  • Heavier than air. Without ventilation, highest concentrations will be low to the ground.
  • Mainly used in paint strippers and removers for metal degreasing, cleaning and finishing, and in some manufacturing.

How can methylene chloride harm you?

  • Chemical burns.
  • Headaches, nausea, dizziness, clumsiness, unconsciousness, coma, seizures or sudden death.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and death (it can be metabolized into CO).
  • A probable cancer-causing chemical in humans.

What can be done to prevent risk of injury or death from methylene chloride?

Use a product that does not contain methylene chloride. There are safer alternatives available. Read product labels and safety data sheets for necessary precautions—methylene chloride most likely cannot be used safely in small and medium enclosed areas, like bathrooms. The use of methylene chloride is actually prohibited in Massachusetts for any kind of deleading work.

If methylene chloride-based stripper must be used:

  • ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Adhere to steps outlined in this fact sheet to help protect yourself and others from death.
  • If used at work, employers must provide adequate protection to workers and adhere to OSHA’s Methylene Chloride standard and other applicable OSHA standards.

Poison Help LogoMemorize the Poison Center hotline: 1-800-222-1222. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. You can also request free Poison Center hotline magnets or stickers to post wherever you need.

Use this National Poison Prevention Week as a kick-off point for knowing how to get information on chemicals that can harm you or those you care about.

Written By:


Industrial Hygienist, Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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