Bathtub refinishing technician died from inhalation of paint stripper vapors,
Iowa Case Report: 12IA009
September 11, 2012
In 2012, a 37-year-old female technician employed by a surface-refinishing business died from inhalation exposure to methylene chloride and methanol vapors while she used a chemical stripper to prep the surface of a bathtub for refinishing. The technician was working alone without respiratory protection or ventilation controls in a small bathroom of a rental apartment. When the technician did not pick up her children at the end of the day, her parents contacted her employer, who then called the apartment complex manager after determining the victim’s personal vehicle was still at the refinishing company’s parking lot. The apartment complex manager went to the apartment unit where the employee had been working and called 911 upon finding the employee unresponsive, slumped over the bathtub. City Fire Department responders arrived within 4 minutes of the 911 call. The apartment manager and first responders reported a strong chemical odor in the second story apartment. There was an uncapped gallon can of Klean Strip Aircraft® Low Odor Paint Remover (80-90% methylene chloride, 5-10% methanol) in the bathroom. The employee’s tools and knee pad were found in the tub, suggesting the employee had been kneeling and leaning over the tub wall to manually remove the loosened original bathtub finish coat.
The factors contributing to this lethal exposure include use of a highly concentrated methylene chloride chemical stripper having poor warning properties (“Low Odor”); working in a small room without local exhaust ventilation to remove chemical vapors or provide fresh air; and working without a respirator that could have protected the employee from exposure.