Three decades of death

Methylene chloride, a common ingredient in products such as paint strippers, can kill when its fumes build up in an enclosed area. The Center for Public Integrity, combing through workplace death investigations, coroners' reports and poison control center reports, found 56 deaths since 1980 that authorities linked to unintentional overexposure to the chemical. The number is likely an undercount because there is no single tally of such deaths. Unless otherwise noted, the key source of information is the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration or state workplace-safety agencies.

Fatal incidents involving methylene chloride

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher

    Cleveland, Ohio

    Died while stripping a residential bathtub for a job assignment; OSHA is still investigating but suspects methylene chloride exposure.

  • Jeffrey Lewis Jr., 20

    New York, New York

    Died while helping his father refinish a hotel bathtub for a job assignment while the father worked in another room; the paint stripper was 88 percent methylene chloride.

  • Michael Richartz, 50

    Portland, Oregon

    Died in a hospital after being overcome while stripping a bathtub for a job assignment.

  • Unnamed consumer, 80

    Location not reported

    Died from unintentional inhalation of methylene chloride, according to an American Association of Poison Control Centers report.

  • Bernardo Martinez, 37

    Wheeling, Illinois

    Died after being overcome by methylene chloride in a storage tank, roughly a minute after entering, and falling from the tank's ladder.

  • Traci C. Sheibal, 37

    Council Bluffs, Iowa

    Died while stripping paint from an apartment bathtub for a job assignment; the mother of four used a product that was 80 to 90 percent methylene chloride.

  • Roberto Ramirez Magdariaga, 62

    Fullerton, California

    Died while stripping paint from the inside of a paint-mixing tank; a co-worker who tried to rescue him had to be resuscitated and was hospitalized for four days.

  • Levi Weppler, 30

    Toledo, Ohio

    Died while stripping a bathtub for a job assignment.

  • Robert Michael "Mike" Beall, 49

    Clarkston, Georgia

    Died while stripping an apartment bathtub for a job assignment.

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher, 41

    Michigan

    Died while using a paint stripper on a bathtub for a job assignment, according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report.

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher, 31

    Brooklyn, New York

    Died while using a paint stripper on a bathtub for a job assignment.

  • Steve Duarte, 24

    Alhambra, California

    Died while stripping paint from a church's baptismal font, one designed like a sunken tub; the paint stripper was 70 to 85 percent methylene chloride.

  • James Philip Smith, 52

    Ann Arbor, Michigan

    Died while stripping a bathtub for a job assignment that exposed him to methylene chloride vapors hundreds of times above the federal limit, according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report. He was co-owner of a bathtub-refinishing company.

  • Crystal Bowen, 27

    Greenwood, Indiana

    Died while stripping a bathtub for a job assignment, using a product that was 75-100 percent methylene chloride.

  • Jesus Colorado, 23

    Silver Spring, Maryland

    Died while stripping an apartment bathtub for a job assignment; found face down on the bathroom floor after applying the paint stripper.

  • Luis Esteban Martinez, 28

    Sarasota, Florida

    Died while replacing carpet in the cabin of a boat with an adhesive containing methylene chloride.

  • Thomas Palmer, 57

    Sterling Heights, Michigan

    Died while stripping a bathtub for a job assignment; the medical examiner named methylene chloride a contributing factor to the cause of death, heart disease, according to OSHA.

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher, 36

    Callahan, Florida

    Died while stripping a bathtub for a job assignment after using a pint of a paint stripper that was 80 to 85 percent methylene chloride.

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher, 43

    Framingham, Massachusetts

    Died in a hospital after being found unconscious over the bathtub he was stripping for a job assignment.

  • Antonio Minichilli, 46

    Worcester, Massachusetts

    Died of a heart attack on the job after using a paint stripper earlier in the day; OSHA, which found methylene chloride levels above the allowable limit at the site, noted that the chemical can trigger a heart attack.

  • Max Leiss, 52

    Shaumburg, Illinois

    Died while stripping bathroom walls at a job site using a methylene chloride paint stripper.

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher, 29

    Texas

    Died while working on a bathtub in a single-family house; his blood tested positive for methylene chloride exposure, according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report.

  • Anthony Kaniewski Jr., 31

    Newtown, Pennsylvania

    Died while stripping paint from shutters; he was discovered face down in the tank of methylene chloride he'd been working over.

  • Unnamed bathtub refinisher, 39

    New York, New York

    Died while stripping and reglazing a bathtub for a job assignment in an apartment; he was overcome by the vapors from a paint stripper that was at least 70 percent methylene chloride.

  • Johnathan Welch, 18

    Red Bank, Tennessee

    Died at a hospital after being overcome while stripping furniture, one week before he would have started college.

  • Unnamed manufacturing employee

    Baltimore, Maryland

    Died while cleaning a 250-gallon reactor vessel with methylene chloride; OSHA noted that the coroner found "extremely high levels" of the chemical in his body.

  • Brad Williams, 21

    Kansas City, Missouri

    Died alongside a co-worker; they were stripping the floor of a squash court with 14 gallons of methylene chloride.

  • Marvin Snook, 29

    Kansas City, Missouri

    Died alongside a co-worker; they were stripping the floor of a squash court with 14 gallons of methylene chloride.

  • Unnamed furniture-stripping employee

    Wheat Ridge, Colorado

    Died at a hospital after he was overcome while stripping furniture with methylene chloride.

  • Unnamed co-owner of a local company

    Lithonia, Georgia

    Died while repairing a plastic-coated metal rack; he was found inside the tank of methylene chloride the company used to strip rack coatings.

  • Unnamed furniture-stripping employee

    Somers, Connecticut

    Died while stripping the finish from church pews; he slumped into the dip tank after complaining that the methylene chloride was making him dizzy.

  • Julette "Julie" Jenkins, 28

    Columbus, Ohio

    Died in her house after stripping furniture in her attic; coroner ruled that methylene chloride was the cause.

  • Robert E. Umberger Jr, 21

    Newport News, Virginia

    Died while stripping paint from metal registers.

  • Walter Irby Jr., 34

    Conshohocken, Pennsylvania

    Died while removing paint from a tote bin with paint stripper.

  • Unnamed wife of industrial-supply firm owner

    Cicero, Illinois

    Died while cleaning an ink vat with paint stripper and decal remover that contained methylene chloride; she was the wife of the firm's owner, not an employee.

  • Unnamed tank maintenance employee

    Cleveland, Ohio

    Died while working on a portable tank that had just been cleaned with methylene chloride.

  • Randy White, 31

    Chicago, Illinois

    Died alongside a co-worker while stripping a restroom floor in a federal building with methylene chloride.

  • Norman Brewer, 32

    Chicago, Illinois

    Died alongside a co-worker while stripping a restroom floor in a federal building with methylene chloride.

  • Unnamed maintenance employee

    Jessup, Maryland

    Died while cleaning a tanker trailer with methylene chloride; he was overcome in roughly five minutes.

  • Unnamed boat company employee

    Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

    Died while replacing carpet in a boat with a methylene chloride product.

  • Unnamed employee of a tank-truck carrier

    Angleton, Texas

    Died five days after collapsing while using methylene chloride to clean the interior of a tank truck.

  • Unnamed chemical-plant employee

    San Antonio, Texas

    Died while checking the fluid level of a sump hole that contained methylene chloride and other substances from the chemical plant's drains; he was found lying in the fluid.

  • Unnamed furniture-stripping employee, 19

    Aurora, Colorado

    Died while working over a furniture-stripping tank, two hours into his first day on the job.

  • Luther Howard

    Laurens, South Carolina

    Died after working with a paint stripper in the basement of a water-pumping station; he was one of three people who succumbed in the incident.

  • Elliot T. Brown, 42

    Laurens, South Carolina

    Died while checking on a co-worker. He was one of three people who succumbed after exposure to paint stripper in the basement of a water-pumping station.

  • Ron Gilmer, 32

    Laurens, South Carolina

    Died after exposure to paint stripper in the basement of a water-pumping station, one of three to succumb; Gilmer, an electrician, had stepped in to investigate after hearing an unusual noise.

  • Richard Enfinger, 18

    Charlotte, North Carolina

    Died alongside a co-worker; they were quickly overcome after applying methylene chloride to the paint on the inside of a tanker trailer compartment.

  • Clyde Hendershot, 23

    Charlotte, North Carolina

    Died alongside a co-worker; they were quickly overcome after applying methylene chloride to the paint on the inside of a tanker trailer compartment.

  • Unnamed furniture-stripping employee

    Erie, Pennsylvania

    Died while stripping wooden furniture over a dip tank; OSHA said he "apparently lost consciousness and slumped, head first, into the tank."

  • Unnamed employee of tank-truck carrier

    Newbury, Ohio

    Died while cleaning the trailer of a truck using methylene chloride.

  • David Jones

    Morton Grove, Illinois

    Died after entering a degreaser in a pit to drain the methylene chloride inside and clean up.

  • Unnamed boat company employee

    Largo, Florida

    Died while gluing carpet in a boat, using a product with methylene chloride.

  • Unnamed manufacturing-firm worker

    Springfield, Ohio

    Died in an accident involving methylene chloride at a coatings manufacturing company.

  • Unnamed coatings-company worker

    Maryland Heights, Missouri

    Died in an accident involving methylene chloride at a plastics and coatings company.

  • Jonathan Smith

    Cambridge, Massachusetts

    Died at a hospital after scraping varnish off the inside of a 500-gallon tank; methylene chloride paint stripper had been applied to it in previous days, and Smith was overcome by the fumes.

  • John F. Rogers, 20

    East Syracuse, New York

    Died in an accident involving methylene chloride at a finish-removal company.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, state workplace-safety agencies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, county coroners, American Association of Poison Control Centers, lawsuits and newspaper reports.