A recent warning about a chemical stripper often used to refinish bathtubs raises a red flag about using chemical products improperly.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert about the dangers of using paint strippers containing methylene chloride in tub refinishing. The risk is to the person doing the work, not to anyone using the tub later.
The products were linked to 13 deaths from 2000 to 2011 of people who used them to remove old finishes from bathtubs without adequately protecting themselves from the vapors, which can cause people to pass out and interfere with their breathing.
One of the victims was an Ohioan, reportedly from the Toledo area.
One problem is that people sometimes use the products without heeding the label warnings, said Dr. Kenneth D. Rosenman, chief of Michigan State University’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and an author of the alert. What’s more, the products are often used for purposes they’re not intended or labeled for, he said.
All 13 incidents happened in unventilated residential bathrooms, the report said. The victims either weren’t wearing protective equipment, including a respirator, or their equipment was inadequate.
Bathtub refinisher Wayne Crawford said he’s encountered that kind of carelessness many times, often by cut-rate contractors who take shortcuts to lower costs.
Crawford, who owns WAC Resurfacing in Firestone Park, said he uses strippers containing methylene chloride sparingly and only occasionally.
“It is nasty, nasty stuff,” he said.
Usually he scrapes off old tub finishes by hand rather than using a faster chemical stripper, he said. When he does have to use one, he makes sure to ventilate the area properly and uses eye and skin protection as well as a fresh air transfer unit, a more sophisticated version of a respirator that uses a compressor to draw fresh outdoor air to his lungs.
Six of the stripping products used by the 13 people who died were marketed for removing aircraft coatings. The rest were for use on wood, metal, glass or masonry.
Some of the products are commonly found in hardware stores. In fact, Rosenman said he walked into a hardware store last weekend and saw the product that killed one of the victims, a do-it-yourselfer from Michigan.
Rosenman said he thinks methylene chloride strippers shouldn’t be used in bathrooms. He also noted that none of the strippers involved was labeled for use on bathtubs, which he believes raises a case for better regulation.
He said he worries about people misusing them. Do-it-yourselfers in particular often ignore the small print on labels, he said, and they can be lulled into a false sense of security.
“The consumer thinks, ‘Oh, well, it can’t be that bad. They’re selling it right there on the shelf,’ ” he said.
The chemical does not pose a lasting danger, Rosenman said. It dissipates in the air and doesn’t leave behind any harmful residue.
However, he noted the chemical could endanger a homeowner coming to the aid of a worker who was overcome while refinishing a tub.
The products have long been recognized as potentially fatal to furniture strippers and factory workers, but their danger to bathtub refinishers hadn’t been reported previously, the CDC alert said.
Furniture refinisher John Wilkie of Revere Refinishing in Norton said he uses products containing methylene chloride only in conjunction with a “huge ventilation system,” and even then he goes outside every 15 minutes to breathe fresh air. He’s well aware of the proper use of the products he uses, he said, and he passes along the proper precautions to his customers who want to do refinishing work themselves.
But the typical consumer doesn’t have that information, he said. When that consumer shops for a chemical stripper at a hardware store or home center, “there’s no pamphlets on this,” he said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at marybeth.ohio.com.