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Taking the risk out of adhesives

If you change one thing in 2023 let it be your spray adhesive, Rachael Morgan tells flooring contractors.

AS a flooring professional, you probably consider your job as being fairly low risk. Sure, it’s hard on the knees and sharp objects have a habit of resulting in the odd nick or two. But not all workplace hazards involve accidents with machinery or falls from height, some of the most dangerous risks are those you can’t even see – such as dichloromethane in adhesives.

If you’ve not heard of DCM or dichloromethane in the past two years, where have you been? Don’t worry if that’s the case, though, because you’re not alone. About 10% of flooring professionals are still unaware of DCM and its effects on your health and that of your customers.

In flooring applications, the risk is especially high since you’re working indoors, and of course on the floor. So, why does that make it riskier? Well DCM is heavier than air, so it accumulates at floor level and depending on ventilation can take hours to disperse.

I spend a lot of my time speaking to flooring professionals about the risks, preventative measures and suitability. Earlier this year I met Mike Rawles of Upton Carpets in Poole, Dorset, who has already made the switch to DCM-free, but unfortunately not before receiving a frightening diagnosis earlier this year:

‘I’ve been fitting carpets and flooring for around 19 years. I spent many years working in high-end marine environments on super yachts and luxury boats, and have always used a fair bit of spray adhesive for some parts of this.

‘I’ve always been a little bit concerned at the amount of chemicals in the adhesives we use, especially the dichloromethane. I’d done some research into the harmful effects it can have including damage to the central nervous system and organs and even cancer.’

Fast forward to March 2023, Mike was running his own business supplying and fitting carpets and flooring and doing very well, but then he noticed a lump on his neck. After numerous doctor’s appointments it was continually dismissed as just an enlarged gland owing to being rundown. Finally Mike saw a specialist and was diagnosed with cancer which had started in his throat and spread to the lymph node in his neck.

‘I cannot stress enough the importance of getting things checked immediately if you’re unsure. I’m only in my forties and I’m fit and healthy – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke so my risk factors are otherwise low – I’m convinced my cancer was caused by exposure to chemicals, especially given its location.

‘There are many hazards in our trade, whether it’s old flooring or the adhesives we use – I believe it’s really important to take whatever steps we can to eliminate these risks. I certainly won’t go back to my old glues and recommend all my friends and colleagues to make the switch too!’

I’ve been in the flooring trade now for 15 years and in the chemical sector my entire career, but I’m still learning when it comes to adhesive safety and developing safer adhesives. But it’s stories like Mike’s that drive me to continue to educate and develop safer adhesives. A few things you should know about DCM:

  • The main route of exposure to humans is inhalation. This is because DCM vapour is heavier than air, so it collects at ground level. Exposures are highest in occupational settings.
  • DCM is carcinogenic and as such, carries the hazard statement ‘suspected of causing cancer’
  • DCM is metabolised to carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is harmful because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen.
  • DCM is dangerous as it doesn’t smell bad. Dichloromethane is an almost odourless solvent which means you could be breathing it in and you wouldn’t even know until you develop physical side-effects.
  • Common side effects include headaches, skin rashes, dizziness, coughing or wheezing, blurred vision, kidney problems and even cancer. Seek medical attention immediately if you’re concerned by side-effects.

    It’s a scientific fact that nobody likes change. Humans are naturally risk-averse so when something is working well, we don’t like to change it and that’s as true for flooring professionals as anybody else.

    When something new comes along, we’re naturally suspicious.

    We look for faults, and we’re much more inclined to believe negative feedback. Word-of-mouth means people often form preconceptions about new technology before they’ve seen or tried it for themselves. But there are times when NOT changing is actually far riskier than taking a leap of faith – like making the change to a DCM-free adhesive.

    There are many DCM-free options available on the market today and of varying grades, carpet sprays, tackifiers and contact sprays. So, I urge you if you change one thing in 2023 let it be your spray adhesive, take the leap today and choose your health, your teams health and your clients health.
    Rachael Morgan is category manager, Gekko Adhesives
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