Common Bathtub Cleaning Agent Can be Deadly, CDC finds

Common Bathtub Cleaning Agent Can be Deadly, CDC findsThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning regarding a commonly found paint-stripping chemical used to refinish bathtubs after it was identified in the death of 13 people in 10 states.

The alert was based on a study conducted at Michigan State University, which found the 13 deaths occurred between 2000 and 2001, and were linked to products containing methylene chloride, which is used to strip paint form residential bathtubs. Three of the deaths were reported in Michigan, and the other 10 occurred in nine other states.

The degreaser and paint remover is typically used in both industrial and residential restoration projects.

"Each death occurred in a residential bathroom with inadequate ventilation," the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report noted. "Protective equipment, including a respirator, either was not used or was inadequate to protect against methylene chloride vapor."

The report also stated that the chemical had already been deemed potentially fatal to furniture strippers and factory workers, but had not been noted to cause death among bathtub refinishers. The warning stated the use of methylene chloride-based products in confined spaces, such as bathrooms, presents a great risk.

The CDC is urging more worker safety and pressing public health agencies, manufacturers and trade groups to "communicate the extreme hazards" of their use to anyone working with or around the chemical.

Kenneth Rosenman, co-author of the alert, said the best way to avoid the risks posed by the chemical is to simply keep it out of the bathroom. Because the agent is heavier than air, he said, its vapors likely linger in the bathtub after application. All workers using products containing the chemical should wear respirators or only work in highly ventilated areas.

"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," Rosenman, chief of the school’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said in a statement. "In a small bathroom, it is unlikely these products can be used safely."

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, methylene chloride is a colorless, volatile liquid that smells similar to chloroform, and has many uses, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, metal cleaning and degreasing, polyurethane foam production and many others. The cleaning agent has also been listed as a known carcinogen.