Stripping Away the Hazards of Methylene Chloride

Methylene chloride (also called dichloromethane) is a solvent with many uses, including paint stripping, polyurethane foam manufacturing, and cleaning and degreasing. You might not think that a chemical you can buy at your local home improvement store for use at home would be all that dangerous, but don’t be fooled. Methylene chloride is hazardous enough that it is covered by one of OSHA’s substance-specific standards, 29 CFR 1910.1052.

Today we’re going to take a look at the hazards of methylene chloride and at the methylene chloride standard.

Methylene Chloride: Hazards

If your workers use methylene chloride on the job, they may be exposed to the chemical through inhalation, absorption through the skin, or skin contact. Overexposure to methylene chloride can cause both immediate and long-term health effects.

  • Immediate effects of inhalation exposure may include confusion, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Prolonged or very high levels of exposure may cause eye and respiratory irritation, staggering, unconsciousness, and death. Workers who suffer from angina (chest pain) may experience worsened symptoms of the ailment.

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  • Skin and eye exposure to liquid methylene chloride may cause irritation; when not washed off quickly, it could cause burns.
  • Long-term exposure may cause chronic dermatitis as well as permanent nerve and liver damage.
  • Methylene chloride has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and may cause cancer in humans.
  • Methylene chloride is heavier than air and will accumulate in low-lying areas, making additional precautions necessary in confined spaces, pits, and similar locations.

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The Methylene Chloride Standard

Methylene chloride has a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 25 parts per million (ppm) in air, as an 8-hour time-weighted average. It also has a short-term exposure limit of 125 ppm in air, as a 15-minute time-weighted average. Because it is subject to a substance-specific standard, methylene chloride also has an action level of 12.5 ppm (half the PEL).

Under OSHA’s methylene chloride standard, employers are required to conduct exposure determinations for workers who may be exposed to methylene chloride. This means you must measure your exposure and determine whether workers may be exposed to dangerous concentrations of this chemical. Workers who may be exposed to levels of methylene chloride at concentrations greater than the action level must be informed of the quantity, location, manner of use, release, and storage of methylene chloride and which operations in the workplace could result in exposure. You may also need to enroll exposed workers in a medical monitoring program to ensure that they are not overexposed.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how you can protect workers from methylene chloride hazards.

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