Reproductive toxicity

There is limited information on the reproductive toxicity of methylene chloride in humans. No cases of human malformations have been reported, but high exposure to methylene chloride was associated with the occurrence of spontaneous abortion in a group of women who worked in a pharmaceutical factory (Lindbohm et al., 1992). Other studies have not found an increase in spontaneous abortions associated with methylene chloride exposure (Taskinen et al., 1994). Methylene chloride crosses the placenta and passes into breast milk (Schardein, 1993).

From studies involving prenatal and postnatal evaluation, methylene chloride caused no gross teratogenic effects in experimental animals (Hardin and Manson, 1980). However, it is thought that there may be slight fetotoxicity and persistent behavioural changes in offspring following premating or gestational exposure to methylene chloride in laboratory animals (Bornschein et al., 1980; Barlow and Sullivan, 1982). Schardein (1993) cites studies where methylene chloride was reported to induce post-natal behavioural effects in rats after massive inhalational exposures, but in lower doses it was not teratogenic in rats, mice or rabbits.

Exposure to 1,250 ppm methylene chloride had no effect on the average number of implantation sites per litter, the incidence of fetal resorptions, litter size, fetal sex ratios or fetal body measurements in rats or mice. However, exposure to methylene chloride caused a significant increase in carboxyhaemoglobin concentrations during exposure. Carboxyhaemoglobin concentrations were normal 24 hours after the last exposure to methylene chloride (Schwetz et al., 1975).

RISK GROUPS

Some populations may be more susceptible to methylene chloride poisoning. Individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease may be more at risk from cardiac arrhythmias associated with the production of carbon monoxide. Smokers may be at a higher risk of toxicity since they already have elevated carboxyhaemoglobin concentrations (DiVincenzo and Kaplan, 1981a). Obese individuals may also be at a higher risk since methylene chloride is lipophilic, therefore obese subjects will absorb more methylene chloride than lean subjects. Active workers (as opposed to sedentary workers) may also be at a higher risk of methylene chloride poisoning (Astrand et al., 1975).

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