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Fatal Worker Exposure to Toxins in Surface Refinishing

toxic exposureLast month the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa reported the death of technician who specialized in bathtub refinishing; the worker died from inhaling vapors from a paint stripping product. The Center for Disease Control designates this as an instance of fatal exposure to Methylene Chloride; this comes as no surprise to occupational disease attorneys, who have warned about the substance for years, and have advocated that it be designated as a primary risk area for toxic injury claim.

In 2012, a female technician working for a surface-refinishing business died after inhaling vapors from the chemicals methylene chloride and methanol, which are used to strip and prep bathtub surfaces for refinishing. The worker was refinishing the tub by herself and had no respiratory protection or ventilation inside a small apartment bathroom. The technician never arrived to pick up her children from her parents, who watched them after school; the parents contacted her employer, and the apartment complex manager, who reported that the victim’s car was still parked outside the refinishing company’s headquarters.  After the apartment manager entered the unit where the worker had been resurfacing the tub, he found the employee unresponsive and called 911.  Both her work tools and knee protectors were still in the tub, indicating that the worker had been leaning over the tub wall to manually strip away the bathtub finish coat.

She was found slumped over the edge of the bathtub; first responders pronounced the victim dead on arrival.

Both the apartment manager and medics reported an intense chemical odor in the apartment unit. The gallon jog of Klean Strip Aircraft Paint Remover remained uncapped in the bathroom; the product contains 80-90% methylene chloride and 5-10% methanol.

The factors involved in this fatal toxic exposure include the fact that a highly concentrated methylene chloride product had misleading warnings on the front of the container, which reads “Low Odor”.  Another problem was the employee working in a very small room without any ventilation to provide fresh air and rid the area of chemical vapors.  Finally, the worker was not using a respirator, which can protect the employee from exposure.

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Emery Reddy