THURSDAY, Feb. 23, 2012 (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.
"To use products containing methylene chloride safely, work areas must be well-ventilated, and when levels of methylene chloride exceed recommended exposure limits, workers must use protective equipment," study co-author Kenneth Rosenman, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the College of Human Medicine, at Michigan State University, said in a university news release. "In a small bathroom, it is unlikely these products can be used safely," he added.
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.
"The extreme hazards of using products with this chemical in bathtub refinishing need to be clearly communicated to employers, workers and the general public," Rosenman said. "Safer methods using alternative products should be recommended."
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has more about methylene chloride.