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Glossary - Methylene Chloride

Dichloromethane (DCM or methylene chloride) is the organic compound with the formula CH2Cl2.  This colourless, volatile liquid with a moderately sweet aroma is widely used as a solvent.

Dichloromethane is the least toxic of the simple chlorohydrocarbons, but it is not without its health risks as its high volatility makes it an acute inhalation hazard.  Dichloromethane is also metabolised by the body to carbon monoxide potentially leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.  Acute exposure by inhalation has resulted in optic neuropathy and hepatitis, and prolonged skin contact can result in the dichloromethane dissolving some of the fatty tissues in skin, resulting in skin irritation or chemical burns.  It may be carcinogenic, as it has been linked to cancer of the lungs, liver, and pancreas in laboratory animals.

Dichloromethane crosses the placenta, and fetal toxicity in women who are exposed to it during pregnancy however has not been proven.  In animal experiments it was fetotoxic at doses that were maternally toxic but no teratogenic effects were seen.

In many countries, products containing dichloromethane must carry labels warning of its health risks.  In the European Union, use of dichloromethane in paint-strippers was banned for consumers and many professionals.


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