Fatal Exposure to Methylene Chloride Among Bathtub Refinishers

United States, 2000-2011

Debra Chester, MS; Kenneth D. Rosenman, MD; George R. Grimes, MD; Kathleen Fagan, MD; Dawn N. Castillo, MPH


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2012;61(7):119-122. 

In This Article

OSHA Investigation

OSHA and OSHA-approved State Occupational Safety and Health Plans conduct investigations of worker deaths and enforce compliance with worker safety and health regulations. A review of the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), a database for federal and state OSHA investigations, identified 12 methylene chloride–related deaths associated with professional bathtub refinishing operations during 2000–2011. One of the three deaths identified by the Michigan program was not in IMIS because the decedent was self-employed and therefore outside OSHA's enforcement jurisdiction. The ages of the 13 decedents ranged from 23 to 57 years (median = 39 years) (Table). Twelve were male.

Ten different products were associated with the 13 deaths. Six of the products were marketed for use in the aircraft industry, the rest for use on wood, metal, glass, and masonry. None of the product labels mentioned bathtub refinishing. The percentage of methylene chloride in the products ranged from 60% to 100%.

Toxicology tests from specimens collected at autopsy indicated methylene chloride blood levels ranging from 18 to 223 mg/L in the six decedents for whom values were recorded; a level of <2 mg/L is expected in a person working within the OSHA allowable air standard for exposure to methylene chloride fumes.[3] Among the five decedents whose carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) levels were tested, levels ranged from absent to mildly elevated (range: zero to 5%) (Table), indicating that carbon monoxide was unlikely to have been the primary cause of death (although the durations of exposure to methylene chloride and receipt of oxygen during resuscitation efforts, two factors that can affect COHb levels, were not known).

Analysis of IMIS data regarding deaths from methylene chloride showed an increase in cases involving bathtub refinishing since 2000. During 1976–1999, only two (8%) of all methylene chloride deaths investigated by OSHA were linked to bathtub refinishing. Since 2000, 13 (75%) of the methylene chloride deaths investigated by OSHA occurred during bathtub refinishing. Following is an illustrative case report.


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