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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Workers exposed to common paint strippers suffer fatal reactions

Litigation is advancing against the distributors and resellers of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and NMP. The lawsuits were filed for damages resulting from the alleged exposure, illness and death of users of the products.

One of the most serious dangers to exposure to methylene chloride is a fatal respiratory condition caused by inhalation of the substance. Methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide in the body and starves the heart of oxygen and a fatal heart attack occurs. Additionally, it also acts as an anesthetic at high doses causing exposed individuals to stop breathing because of brain reaction. Even workers who have utilized respiratory protection have died after exposure to methylene chloride.
Goof-Off is manufactured
by WM Barr & Co., Inc.

For over 3 decades medical conditions related to to the use of methylene chloride have been reported. As early as 1976 researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin reported that, “…The in-home use of paint removers containing methylene chloride results in the absorption of this solvent, which is metabolized to carbon monoxide.”

Traditional workers’ compensation programs compensate workers and their dependents for schedule benefits as a result of occupational exposures such as to methylene chloride. Injured workers and their dependents are now also filing claims against the manufacturer, ie.  and distributors, ie. Lowes and Home Depot, of the paint stripping products for their failure to adequately warn of the dangers of products containing methylene chloride.

Methylene chloride is not banned in the US. The California Department of Public Health has stated that “….the continuing deaths suggest methylene chloride is ‘too hazardous to be used outside of engineered industrial environments.’”  Additionally, the European Union made the same pronouncement.

Lowe’s, a leading product retailer of products containing methylene chloride and NMP has announced that “…. it will phase out paint removal products with the chemicals methylene chloride and NMP from its global product selection by the end of the year. This effort is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to bring safer, affordable options to customers. The company also plans to work with the EPA on a consistent regulatory standard across the industry.”

Methylene chloride litigation seems to mirror the epic litigation of other notoriously dangerous substances like asbestos and tobacco. In those cases, the benefits under the workers’ compensation insurance act were so limited that creative products liability litigation emerged. Monumental compensatory and punitive damage awards generated from an emerging wave of lawsuits ultimately made the workplace safer. 

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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). 

For over 4 decades the
Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses. Click HERE to contact us.