Solution Summary: Safer Alternatives to Paint Removers Containing the Solvent Methylene Chloride
Using safer alternatives for paint removers containing methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane, is a substitution practice to replace this harmful chemical that can affect the nervous system, skin, eyes, nose, and throat.
Paint removers containing the harmful chemical methylene chloride are used in many industries and for a variety of tasks. In construction, performing remodeling work such as refinishing bathtubs or paint surfaces as well as abating lead-based paint can expose workers to this chemical. To check for potential exposure, a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) can help identify whether a product contains methylene chloride.
In removing bathtub coatings, it has been documented that benzyl alcohol-based strippers are effective and safer alternatives to replace methylene chloride-based strippers. In addition to benzyl alcohol-based products, paint removers containing dimethyl glutarate and dimethyl adipate are also safer alternatives to methylene chloride to which painters and abatement workers can also consider.
Dumond Chemicals, Inc. Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover
- Removes multiple layers of architectural and industrial coatings from interior and exterior surfaces
- Applies to wood, brick, metal, concrete, stone, plaster, and most fiberglass and plastics
- Contains 30-50% benzyl alcohol
- 100% biodegradable
- Emits zero VOCs
Fiberlock Technologies Piranha NexStrip Pro
- Applies to interior and exterior surfaces including concrete, brick, stone, aluminum, wood, fiberglass, plastic and other surfaces
- Low odor
- Contains 30-40% benzyl alcohol
Sunnyside Corp Hi-Speed Ready-Strip
- Removes up to 3 layers of oil or water-based coatings
- Contains 25-35% benzyl alcohol
- Contains 6-10% dimethyl glutarate
- Contains 2-6% dimethyl adipate
Packaging Service Co., Inc. Crown NEXT Paint Strip
- Strips paint, varnish, lacquer and epoxy from wood, metal, and masonry
- Contains 45-55% dimethyl glutarate
- Contains 5-15% dimethyl adipate
3M Safest StripperTM Paint and Varnish Remover
- Strips "virtually any finish"
- Contains 1-5% dimethyl gluterate
- Contains 20-30% dimethyl adipate
Working with methylene chloride-based products, particularly in enclosed spaces with little or no ventilation can build up hazardous chemical vapors. Exposure to methylene chloride at levels above the occupational exposure limits can affect the nervous system where overexposure in a short term can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, clumsiness, and drowsiness. Repeated and frequent overexposure to methylene chloride over an extended period of months and years can have chronic and potentially permanent effects that include fatigue, sleeplessness, poor coordination, loss of short-term memory and personality changes such as depression, anxiety or irritability. Contact with methylene chloride strippers can cause mild skin irritation to severe burns, depending on how long the chemical is in contact with the skin. Contact with the eyes is unlikely to cause permanent injury, but the vapors can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.
How Risks are Reduced:
Exposure to methylene chloride can be eliminated by using solvents that have substituted less toxic chemicals.
A report prepared for the Cal/EPA's Department of Toxic Substances Control recommended the safest and most effective alternative stripping formulations contain benzyl alcohol in which this chemical is classified as a low vapor pressure (according to the California Air Resources Board) and not considered as a volatile organic compound.
Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has assessed a local business specializing in bathtub refinishing that tried various safer and economical alternatives. Among the three alternatives tested, Smart Strip by Dumond Chemicals, Inc. was successfully used on over 1,000 bathtub projects and deemed the best choice because it did not contain formic acid (highly corrosive and emits a sharp odor) and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), a chemical causing reproductive hazard. To note, the projects also utilized a 1,300 cubic feet per minute ventilator set in the bathroom doorways and all workers wore half-face air purifying respirators.
Effects on Productivity:
Although the application of Smart Strip may require additional dwell time in comparison to products containing methylene chloride, it must also be taken into consideration that working with products containing MeCl will require careful application and adherance to any PPE and LEV requirements.
- Methylene chloride, a colorless liquid with a sweet-smelling odor, has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is considered a potential occupational carcinogen in humans.
- Besides methylene chloride, it is also important to check the SDS for other toxic ingredients in products.
- Under 29 CFR 1910.1052, OSHA's Methylene Chloride standard requires employers using methylene chloride to protect and train workers exposed to its hazards. States that operate their own occupational safety and health programs approved by Federal OSHA enforce similar standards but may have different or additional requirements.
- The permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 25 parts per million (ppm) of methylene chloride per million parts of air averaged over an eight-hour work period. The short-term exposure limit (STEL) is 125 ppm during any 15-minute work period.
- The action level for methylene chloride is half of the permissible exposure limit, or 12.5 ppm. Anything starting at this level and above requires employers to perform air monitoring, medical surveillance and other special requirements.
- When working with potentially hazardous chemicals, it is recommended to use properly functioning ventilation systems to exhaust the vapors so that it is not recirculated in the work area.
- Respirators, protective clothing and equipment should be used accordingly as specified by any Federal, state or local standards and regulations for that particular chemical in use.
- For additional online resources, the Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service of the California Department of Public Health provides more information on preventing worker deaths from paint strippers containing methylene chloride. They have also produced a short video Toxic Paint Removers: Safer Alternatives.
- For additional information on the evaluation of safer alternatives to toxic paint removers, the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics provides a 2014 Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP) project report.
Le, Jean Christophe, MPH - CPWR - The Center for Construction for Research and Training
Reviewed by: Harrington, David, MPH
Styles, Laura, MPH - CDPH Occupational Health Branch
- Residential Construction
- Refinish bathtubs
CPWR Resource Guide
To obtain information, visit Resources to Protect Workers from Methylene Chloride (Paint Strippers) or contact 1-301-578-8500
To obtain information, visit HI-SPEED Ready-Strip Spray Citrus Paint and Varnish Remover or contact 1-847-541-5700