Dichloromethane (CH2Cl2) is a volatile, colourless chemical liquid. Also known as methylene chloride, this chemical is used as an organic solvent in various industries. It’s easy to identify because it has a sweet aroma. Behind this is a chemical that can be toxic.
Applications of Dichloromethane
Methylene dichloride isn’t soluble or miscible in water. But, it dissolves in a variety of organic compounds. Here are the most common uses of dichloromethane –
- The chemical is used as a paint remover because it can dissolve in many organic paints. It helps “strip” organic-based colours from their surfaces.
- The chemical is also used to manufacture aerosol products, insecticides, spray paint, adhesives, etc.
- It’s used as an active ingredient in the manufacturing of many medicines and pharmaceutical products.
- The colourless chemical liquid is also used to prepare specific flavourings in the food/beverage manufacturing industry.
- In the past, methylene dichloride was used to extract caffeine from coffee beans. Now, caffeine extraction is carried out using safer, non-toxic alternatives.
Why isn’t methylene chloride used to extract caffeine from coffee beans anymore? Because coffee producers are aware of the health risks of working with dichloromethane. Despite its advantages in specific industrial applications, professionals are afraid of working with this chemical.
Potential Hazards of Dichloromethane
Dichloromethane is widely considered a dangerous organic solvent. When mishandled, it can evaporate in an instant. People at the worksite may unknowingly inhale this dangerous chemical, and their respiratory tracts may get burned. Some other hazards of this chemical include –
- Hard to Get Rid Of: Methylene dichloride is highly volatile and super-stable. Once it has vaporised, it will remain in the air for long periods. That’s why working with this chemical in small spaces is never advisable. People who inhale this chemical may suffer from – respiratory depression, nausea, drowsiness, narcosis, and severe headaches,
- Suffocation: Long-term exposure to concentrated dichloromethane could be lethal. When exposed to the air, the chemical quickly makes people feel suffocated. Victims who inhale this chemical quickly start coughing, wheezing, and experiencing shortness of breath. Before they start suffering from mental confusion, nausea, and vomiting – they must seek medical attention.
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: In rare cases, inhaling methylene chloride can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. This happens when the chemical is absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Skin Irritation: Skin exposure to liquid dichloromethane causes burns, redness, and severe irritation. If the liquid chemical remains on the skin for long periods, it may cause severe skin burns. The same happens when eyes are directly exposed to this chemical. Victims receive painful chemical burns to the eyes.
- Cancer: Chronic exposure to this chemical increases the risk of lung, liver, and brain cancer. This chemical is widely considered to be a carcinogen.
Short-term exposure to methylene chloride isn’t too bad for the health. Acute effects of skin exposure or inhalation are treatable and reversible. However, users must have a “zero exposure” policy when working with this sweet-smelling solvent. They must take the following safety precautions –
- Wear protective clothing from head to feet.
- Cover eyes with chemical splash goggles.
- Wear safety gloves.
- Make sure the worksite is well-ventilated.
- Install fume extraction systems in worksites where operators are handling this chemical.
If someone is exposed to ethylene dichloride, they must –
- Eye Contact – Wash eyes with water and seek medical attention.
- Skin Contact – Remove contaminated clothes and wash the skin with water and soap. Also, seek medical to address any skin irritations.
- Inhalation – Seek fresh air and medical assistance.
- Spills and Leaks – Evacuate and ventilate the area of the fall or leak. Use absorbents like sand to absorb the chemical and place them into sealed containers.
Dichloromethane is a beneficial yet hazardous chemical. Operators must always follow these safety guidelines when handling this chemical.