the painted surface
Paint Stripper Safety and Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a report revealing the dangers of using paint strippers containing methylene chloride. Kenneth Rosenman, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, and MSU colleague Debra Chester wrote the CDC alert. It outlines the circumstances surrounding the deaths of at least 13 workers who were refinishing bathtubs with methylene chloride, a chemical used in products to strip surfaces of paint and other finishes. You can read the entire CDC report using Adobe Reader here Fatal Exposure to Methylene Chloride Among Bathtub Refinishers. If you do not have Adobe Reader on your computer it can be downloaded for free at Adobe. The Michigan State University announcement of the report can be read on their website at Michigan State University/News.
If you choose to use any paint stripper it is extremely important to follow every safety precaution. Paint strippers contain strong chemicals that should never be handled without protecting your skin. The vapors should not be inhaled. Do not use them without eye protection. I recommend stripping paint, varnish and other coatings be left to the professional. If the paint stripper must be used within the home for objects that cannot be taken to a professional workshop make sure the workers follow established safety precautions.
The following directions and guidelines will help you work with paint strippers safely. The list may not be everything you can do to work safely, follow the manufacturer's instructions and warnings and err always on the side of caution.
- Do not use a chemical or stripper when you are not sure of its origin or ingredients.
- The work area should be free of children, pets and trip hazards.
- Never use any paint stripper in an enclosed room, basement or area such as the tubs mentioned in the CDC report. Vapors will become trapped and concentrated in confined spaces, this must be avoided.
- If the object can be taken out of doors, work outside.
- Plan ahead to find a method to provide ventilation. A fan can be mounted in a window to exhaust the vapors. Make sure other windows are opened to create cross ventilation and provide fresh air.
- Wear chemical-resistant gloves, chemical splash goggles and protective clothing.
- A container of paint stripper can build up pressure, open the container slowly allowing any pressure to be relieved slowly.
- Pour the amount needed into a wide mouth metal container.
- Work from the bottom up because the vapors will fall and can accumulate near the floor.
- Using a brush apply the paint stripper to a small area. Work on small sections at a time to reduce the amount of vapors released into the working area.
- While the stripper is working, usually 15 to 30 minutes, close open containers and leave the work area to lessen the time you are exposed to the vapors and fumes.
- If you experience headaches or dizziness STOP and leave the area immediately to find fresh air.
- Plan ahead in case of an accident. FIRST AID - IF SWALLOWED, immediately call your poison control center, hospital emergency room or physician for instructions. IN CASE OF EYE CONTACT, immediately flush with water, remove any contact lens, continue flushing with water for at least 15 minutes, then get immediate medical attention. IN CASE OF SKIN CONTACT, irritation may result. Immediately wash with soap and water. If irritation persists, get medical attention.
- After working, place all rags, applicators, and old-finish residue in a well-ventilated area. Allow liquid to evaporate and residue to dry outdoors then dispose of in accordance with federal, state and local regulations.
The CDC says,
What is already known on this topic?
Methylene chloride is a volatile, toxic, organic solvent used in cleaning and paint stripping and shown to be potentially fatal to furniture strippers and factory workers unless used in strict compliance with safety precautions.
What is added by this report?
Methylene chloride–based paint stripping agents used in bathtub refinishing have caused at least 13 deaths in the United States since 2000 among professional bathtub refinishers. Because of inadequate ventilation, safe use of a methylene chloride stripping agent in a small bathroom is unlikely.
What are the implications for public health practice?
Worker safety agencies, public health agencies, manufacturers of methylene chloride containing products, and trade organizations should clearly communicate to employers, workers, and the general public the extreme hazards of using methylene chloride–based stripping products in bathtub refinishing. Safer methods of bathtub stripping should be recommended.
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