Toxicity

Methylene chloride is a CNS depressant and profound CNS depression may occur after exposures to high concentrations. Concentrations in excess of 50,000 ppm are thought to be immediately life threatening (Hathaway et al., 1996). Signs and symptoms of CNS depression may occur in subjects exposed to vapour concentrations of 1,000 ppm (Stewart et al., 1972b).

Methylene chloride is partially metabolised to carbon monoxide. Methylene chloride is lipophilic and concentrations of carbon monoxide are likely to rise after exposure to methylene chloride has ceased, due to the release of methylene chloride from adipose and other tissues and its subsequent metabolism.

Methylene chloride is commonly found in industrial and domestic paint strippers, but exposure may also occur during its production or use as a cleaner, degreaser, pharmaceutical solvent and process solvent (Budavari, 1996). It is also used in the manufacture of photographic film and in urethane foam (Hathaway et al., 1996). Some aerosols may also contain methylene chloride and it has been used as an ingredient in personal defence sprays (Dueñas et al., 2000).

The main route of exposure is inhalation, but occasionally methylene chloride may be ingested. In industrial situations ingestion may occur as splash contact, or immersion, or heavy contamination. Intentional ingestion of methylene chloride by adults is rare. Accidental ingestion of methylene chloride by children usually involves ingestion of domestic paint strippers although, in rare cases, children may ingest industrial preparations.

Occupational exposure to methylene chloride has resulted in death (Bakinson and Jones, 1985; Manno et al., 1989). Deaths have occurred mainly in individuals who have been cleaning with methylene chloride in an enclosed area (Winek et al., 1981; Kaufman et al., 1989; Leikin et al., 1990; Tay et al., 1995; Kim et al., 1996), emptying tanks of methylene chloride (Goullé et al., 1999), or during disposal of waste methylene chloride in an enclosed space (Manno et al., 1992). Intentional abuse by inhalation of methylene chloride has also been reported (Sturmann et al., 1985; Horowitz, 1986).

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