Deaths From Paint Stripping Chemicals Are on the Rise

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay reporter

WEDNESDAY April 21, 2021 (HealthDay News) – A deadly chemical in paint strippers continues to kill workers despite its known dangers, according to a new study.

The chemical methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane (DCM), is a solvent found in paint strippers, cleaners, degreasers, adhesives, and sealants. When inhaled, it produces large amounts of carbon monoxide which can cut oxygen to the heart. In large doses, it turns off the respiratory center of the brain. Death can occur within minutes.

“It can make you dizzy, nauseous and eventually become unconscious and die because what it does is deprive your body of oxygen,” said lead researcher Veena Singla, lead scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. of San Francisco.

“In a small, enclosed space like a bathroom, fumes can build up to harmful levels within 10 minutes,” she says. “It’s also dangerous in the long run. It’s a known chemical that causes cancer, and it can also cause liver and kidney damage.”


Methylene chloride is a powerful solvent for quickly dissolving paint and adhesives. Although it has been banned in consumer products, it is still used in professional paint strippers.

According to Singla, the industry has resisted the chemical’s ban and says the deaths associated with it are the result of not using proper protective gear.

“Another reason the chemical is so deadly is that the equipment you need to protect yourself from it is very specialized and not easily accessible to many people,” she said.

Regular latex gloves do not protect you from methylene chloride. The chemical can pass through these gloves and be absorbed through the skin. Also, masks worn as a dust shield do not protect against the chemical’s fumes, Singla said.

Even respirators with a cartridge filter are not effective against this chemical, she said.

Although the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned methylene chloride in consumer paint strippers, it is still in certain products that consumers can purchase, she said.

“People should try to avoid methylene chloride in all products and check out old home strippers,” Singla said.


Singla, who worked on the study at the University of California at San Francisco, said the chemical should be banned.

“This chemical is just too dangerous and dangerous to be used safely, and we really need to move on to safer alternatives,” she said. “It has already been done in other places. The European Union has already gotten rid of methylene chloride and moved on to safer alternatives, and we could prevent more deaths if we did too.”

For the study, Singla and her colleagues looked at methylene chloride-related deaths between 1980 and 2018.

Meanwhile, 85 people in the United States have died from exposure to the chemical. Of these deaths, 74 were work-related.

Paint strippers were the most common products involved. The number of work-related deaths from paint stripping rose from 22 (55%) before 2000 to 30 (88%) after 2000, according to the study.

In addition, deaths attributable to bathtub stripping or bathroom paint fell from 2 (5%) before 2000 to 21 (62%) after 2000.


Between 1985 and 2017, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported more than 37,000 non-fatal cases of methylene chloride.

The annual number of reported non-fatal cases peaked at 1,701 in 1995, according to the study, and then began to decline. Cases then peaked at around 408 per year between 2010 and 2017, with around 73 in the workplace.

Liz Hitchcock, director of lobbying group Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, reviewed the study and said it confirms what the public and the EPA have long known.

“Methylene chloride in paint strippers can and has killed people in the workplace,” she said.

According to Hitchcock, the EPA examined 53 uses of methylene chloride and found that 47 of them posed unreasonable risk to the public. “Then they should definitely ban it,” she said.

The EPA has moved away from the chemical’s ban under the Trump administration, Hitchcock said. She hopes, however, that he goes ahead with a ban during Biden’s presidency.

“This article shows us once again that the use of this chemical poses an unacceptable risk and that it is too dangerous to use,” Hitchcock said.


The results were published online on April 19 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

More information

To learn more about methylene chloride, go to Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.

SOURCES: Veena Singla, PhD, senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco; Liz Hitchcock, Director, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Washington, DC; JAMA Internal Medicine, April 19, 2021, online

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