Deaths from peeled paint chemicals are on the rise


By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

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

Chemical methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane (DCM), is a solvent found in strippers, cleaners, degreasers, adhesives, and sealants. When inhaled, it produces large amounts of Carbon monoxide which can cut off oxygen to the color. At high doses, it turns off the brain breathing center. Death can occur in a matter of minutes.

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

“In a space as small and closed as a bathroom, vapors can build up to harmful levels in 10 minutes,” he said. “It is also dangerous in the long run. It is a known chemical that causes cancer and can also cause it liver i kidney damage “.


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

According to Singla, the industry has resisted banning the chemical and claims that the deaths related to it are the result of not using proper protective equipment.

“Another reason why the chemical is so deadly is that the equipment you need to protect yourself from it is highly specialized and out of reach for many people,” he said.

Regular latex gloves do not protect you from methylene chloride. The chemical can pass through these gloves and still be absorbed into the skin. In addition, masks worn as dust protectors do not protect against chemical fumes, Singla said.

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

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned methylene chloride in consumer paint peels, it is still found in some products that consumers can buy, he said.

“People should try to avoid methylene chloride in any product and check for peeled old products at home,” Singla said.


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

“This chemical is too dangerous and dangerous to use safely and we really need to move to safer alternatives,” he said. “This has already been done elsewhere. The European Union has already eliminated methylene chloride and moved to safer alternatives and we could prevent further deaths if we did the same.”

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

During this time, 85 people in the United States died due to exposure to the chemical. Of these deaths, 74 were work-related.

Paint products were the most common products. The study found that the number of work-related deaths from paint stripping went from 22 (55%) before 2000 to 30 (88%) after 2000.

In addition, deaths from bath or peeling paint in bathrooms went from 2 (5%) before 2000 to 21 (62%) after 2000.


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

The annual number of reported non-fatal cases peaked at 1,701 in 1995, according to the study, and began to decline. Then, the cases reached 408 annually between 2010 and 2017, including about 73 in the workplace.

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

“Methylene chloride in paint peelers can kill and kill people in the workplace,” he said.

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

The EPA withdrew from the chemical ban during the Trump administration, Hitchcock said. However, he hopes to continue with a ban during Biden’s presidency.

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


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

More information

For more information on 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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