From Our 2012 Archives

Chemical Used to Strip Bathtubs Linked to Worker Deaths: CDC

THURSDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- A chemical used to strip bathtubs has been associated with more than a dozen deaths of people working as bathtub refinishers in the United States in the last 12 years, according to a new report.

Methylene chloride is used in industrial processes but is also available in over-the-counter paint- and finish-stripping products. It's previously been identified as a potential cause of death among furniture strippers and factory workers, according to a news release from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2010, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-funded Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program investigated the death of a bathtub refinisher in the state who used a methylene chloride-based paint-stripping product marketed for use in aircraft maintenance. Investigators also identified two earlier, similar deaths in Michigan.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also identified 10 other deaths of bathtub refinishers who used methylene chloride stripping agents that had been investigated between 2000 and 2011 in nine states.

All of the deaths occurred in residential bathrooms with inadequate ventilation. The victims either did not use protective respiratory equipment or the equipment they used did not protect against methylene chloride vapor, according to the report in the Feb. 24 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

Victims ranged in age from 23 to 57 years, and 12 of the 13 were male, the authors of the report noted.

Ten different products were associated with the deaths, with six marketed for use in the aircraft industry and the others for use on wood, metal, glass and masonry. Bathtub refinishing was not mentioned on any of the product labels.

Methylene chloride concentration in the stripping products ranged from 60 percent to 100 percent.

When using products that contain methylene chloride, work areas must be well-ventilated, the study authors said. When levels of methylene chloride in a work area exceed recommended exposure levels, respiratory protective equipment must be provided to and used by workers, according to experts.

The study authors said that it's unlikely that a stripping product that contains methylene chloride can be used safely in a small bathroom and employers should consider alternative methods of stripping bathtubs, they recommended.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Feb. 23, 2012