Millions of workers are exposed to organic solvents in products like paints, varnishes, lacquers, adhesives, glues, degreasers and cleaning agents - along with dyes, polymers, plastics, textiles, printing inks, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals.
Public health experts have been advocating for a faster review of methylene chloride-based paint strippers after several deaths from inhalation, including a 21-year-old who died in June 2017 after stripping a bathtub.
The issue again made national news in December when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that, in keeping with an update of the Trump administration’s regulatory plans, it would indefinitely postpone bans on certain uses of three toxic chemicals found in consumer products. Critics said the reversal demonstrated the agency’s increasing reluctance to use enforcement powers granted to it in the 2016 Substances Control Act.
In December of 2017, Delaware Senator Tom Carper blasted the EPA for “blatantly ignoring Congress’s clear directive to the agency to better protect the health and safety of millions of Americans by more effectively regulating some of the most dangerous chemicals known to man.’’ The proposed bans targeted methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), ingredients in paint strippers, and trichloroethylene (TCE), used as a spot cleaner in dry-cleaning and as a degreasing agent.
It has been three years since the EPA first declared these applications of the chemicals to be dangerous. The agency has found TCE “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure” and has reported that it causes developmental and reproductive damage along with autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Erika Sabbath, a research fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, led a study of solvents and its impacts in 2014. The solvents measured in the study included chlorinated and petroleum solvents as well as benzene, all of which are used in plastics, rubbers, dyes and compounds like degreasers and paints. “What was really surprising was that some people, whose last exposure was 30 to 50 years before the assessment, were still exhibiting some cognitive difficulties after they retired,’’ Sabbath told Time Magazine.
A 2017 study of Latino workers by the University of Chicago found those exposed to organic solvents on the job have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure. Using data from medical exams and interviews of 7,127 employed Latinos who came in contact with metals, solvents and pesticides, researchers learned 27 percent of participants had three of the five symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a group of factors that raise a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure
Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include obesity, high triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high blood pressure and high glucose. The researchers in Chicago note that Latino workers were selected because they are the fastest-growing minority group, make up a significant portion of the labor force exposed to hazardous chemicals and may be vulnerable because of low socioeconomic status and language barriers.
Although the study focused on one ethnic group and more research is needed, “the findings suggest that solvents ‘may be important risk factors for high blood pressure among American workers,’” the study states. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta also recognizes many organic solvents as carcinogens or reproductive hazards. The NOISH estimates that 9.8 million workers are potentially exposed to organic solvents every day.
If you need to file a workers' compensation claim, contact the law firm of Hochman & Plunkett and find out how they can help you.