Dichloromethane: general information
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Dichloromethane: general information

Jun 11, 2023

Updated 8 December 2021

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Dichloromethane is a clear, colourless, volatile liquid with a sweet odour. Other common names for dichloromethane are methylene chloride and DCM.

Dichloromethane is used as an aerosol solvent, in the production of pharmaceuticals and as a degreasing agent in electronics and manufacturing industries. It was used in paint stripper products until 2010 when its use in these products was banned within the European Union.

Main points:

Dichloromethane is mainly released into the environment during its production and use.

The general population may be exposed to dichloromethane by breathing in contaminated air. Background levels of dichloromethane in air would not be expected to cause adverse health effects. Exposure to dichloromethane from old, stored consumer products that contain it may occur.

Exposure to dichloromethane is more likely to occur in an occupational setting. However, safe limits are enforced to protect the employees; such levels are below those that are thought to cause harmful effects.

The presence of dichloromethane in the environment does not always lead to exposure. In order for it to cause any adverse health effects you must come into contact with it. You may be exposed to dichloromethane by breathing the substance or by skin contact. Following exposure to any chemical, the adverse health effects you may encounter depend on several factors, including the amount to which you are exposed (dose), the way you are exposed, the duration of exposure, the form of the chemical and if you were exposed to any other chemicals.

Breathing in dichloromethane vapours can result in shortness of breath and cough. Ingestion can cause burns to the digestive tract. Skin contact with dichloromethane can cause a burning sensation, numbness, coldness, pain and burns. Eye contact with dichloromethane vapour can cause irritation and contact with the liquid may cause burns to the eye.

Dichloromethane can also be absorbed into the body via inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. Symptoms include headache, light-headedness, blurred vision, confusion, agitation and skin rashes. In severe cases kidney damage, fitting, heart problems and coma can occur.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that there is enough evidence in experimental animals, but not in humans, that dichloromethane can cause cancer. Therefore, they have classified dichloromethane as being suspected of causing cancer in humans

Individuals with cardiovascular disease may be at an increased risk from the health effects from dichloromethane.

There is limited, inconclusive, evidence that dichloromethane may affect pregnancy or the developing fetus. Therefore, following exposure to dichloromethane an increase in risk of harm to the unborn child cannot be ruled out.

Children exposed to dichloromethane are expected to display similar symptoms to those seen in adults.

You should remove yourself from the source of exposure.

If you have inhaled or ingested dichloromethane seek medical advice.

If you have got dichloromethane on your skin, remove soiled clothing (not over the head), wash the affected area with lukewarm water and soap for at least 10 to 15 minutes and seek medical advice.

If you have got dichloromethane in your eyes, remove contact lenses, irrigate the affected eye with lukewarm water for at least 10 to 15 minutes and seek medical advice.

NHS.UK information on poisoning

UKTIS. Best use of medicines in pregnancy

This information contained in this document from the PHE Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards is correct at the time of its publication. First published: May 2017.

For queries relating to this document contact [email protected]