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The deadly hazards of methylene chloride exposure

Workers in many industries often work with chemicals that they know very little about. Unless they are specifically trained and carefully monitored by their employers and managers, workers can suffer serious injury, illness or death due to hazardous chemical exposure.

One of the most dangerous chemicals commonly in use is methylene chloride, also called dichloromethane. It is an ingredient used in many products and industry processes. These include paint stripping products, metal cleaning and degreasing and even in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. What many workers don't realize, however, is that methylene chloride can cause serious illness, particularly when breathed in or absorbed through the skin. In high enough concentrations, it can kill within a matter of hours.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been tracking deaths related to use of methylene chloride. Since 2000, at least 14 workers nationwide have died from ME exposure under specific circumstances. The deaths involved on-site bathtub refinishing where methylene chloride was used as a paint stripper or de-glazing agent.

One of the most recent cases occurred in July 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The 30-year-old worker was de-glazing a bathtub at a client's apartment. The solution he was using was composed of 80 to 90 percent methylene chloride. As he worked, alone in the bathroom, he shut doors leading into the apartment because he didn't want to bother homeowners with the smell. His only ventilation was a partially opened bathroom window.

The apartment tenant found the worker unresponsive a couple hours after he had started working. He died that same day.

After investigating the incident, OSHA recently cited the man's company for six serious safety violations. The proposed penalties come to more than $25,000.

The worker who lost his life had apparently worked for this company for three years. We have to wonder why he wasn't more concerned about the dangers of this highly toxic chemical. It is possible that like other workers who have been sickened or killed, he did not know how dangerous methylene chloride is.

If your work ever requires you to use unfamiliar chemicals, you have every right to know what you are being exposed to and what ill effects it could cause. Please don't assume that "someone will tell you" what you need to know. Being your own safety advocate could just save your life.

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