ToxFAQsTM for Methylene Chloride
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently
asked health questions about methylene chloride. For more
information, you may call the ATSDR Information Center at
1-800-232-4636. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries
about hazardous substances and their health effects. This
information is important because this substance may harm you.
The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend
on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits
and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
Exposure to methylene chloride occurs mostly from breathing contaminated air, but may also occur through skin contact or by drinking contaminated water. Breathing in large amounts of methylene chloride can damage the central nervous system. Contact of eyes or skin with methylene chloride can result in burns. Methylene chloride has been found in at least 882 of 1,569 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is methylene chloride?
Methylene chloride is a colorless liquid with a mild, sweet odor. Another name for it is dichloromethane. Methylene chloride does not occur naturally in the environment.
Methylene chloride is used as an industrial solvent and as a paint stripper. It may also be found in some aerosol and pesticide products and is used in the manufacture of photographic film.
What happens to methylene chloride when it enters
- Methylene chloride is mainly released to the environment
in air. About half of the methylene chloride in air disappears
in 53 to 127 days.
- Methylene chloride does not easily dissolve in water,
but small amounts may be found in drinking water.
- We do not expect methylene chloride to build up in plants
How might I be exposed to methylene chloride?
- The most likely way to be exposed to methylene chloride
is by breathing contaminated air.
- Breathing the vapors given off by products containing
methylene chloride. Exposure to high levels of methylene
chloride is likely if methylene chloride or a product containing
it is used in a room with inadequate ventilation.
How can methylene chloride affect my health?
If you breathe in large amounts of methylene
chloride you may feel unsteady, dizzy, and have nausea and
a tingling or numbness of your finger and toes. A person breathing
smaller amounts of methylene chloride may become less attentive
and less accurate in tasks requiring hand-eye coordination.
Skin contact with methylene chloride causes burning and redness
of the skin.
How likely is methylene chloride to cause cancer?
We do not know if methylene chloride
can cause cancer in humans. An increased cancer risk was seen
in mice breathing large amounts of methylene chloride for
a long time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has
determined that methylene chloride may cause cancer in humans.
The Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS) has determined that methylene chloride can be reasonably
anticipated to be a cancer-causing chemical.
The EPA has determined that methylene
chloride is a probable cancer-causing agent in humans.
How does methylene chloride affect children?
It is likely that health effects seen
in children exposed to high amounts of methylene chloride
will be similar to the effects seen in adults. We do not know
if methylene chloride can affect the ability of people to
have children or if it causes birth defects. Some birth defects
have been seen in animals inhaling very high levels of methylene
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to
- Families may be exposed to methylene chloride while using
products such as paint removers. Such products should always
be used in well-ventilated areas and skin contact should
- Children should not be allowed to remain near indoor paint
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been
exposed to methylene chloride?
Several tests can measure exposure to
methylene chloride. These tests are not routinely available
in your doctor's office.
Methylene chloride can be detected in
the air you breathe out and in your blood. These tests are
only useful for detecting exposures that have occurred within
a few days.
It is also possible to measure carboxyhemoglobin
(a chemical formed in the blood as methylene chloride breaks
down in the body) in the blood or formic acid (a breakdown
product of methylene chloride) in the urine. These tests are
not specific for methylene chloride.
Has the federal government made recommendations to
protect human health?
The EPA requires that releases of methylene
chloride of 1,000 pounds or more be reported to the federal
The EPA recommends that exposure of children
to methylene chloride be limited to less than 10 milligrams
per liter of drinking water (10 mg/L) for 1 day or 2 mg/L
for 10 days.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
has established limits on the amounts of methylene chloride
that can remain after processing of spices, hops extract,
and decaffeinated coffee.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) has set limits of 25 parts methylene chloride per million
parts of workplace air (25 ppm) for 8-hour shifts and 40-hour
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2000. Toxicological Profile for Methylene Chloride. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Innovation and Analytics, Toxicology Section
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.