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The US steals a march on the UK flooring industry with DCM ban

Congratulations to the tradespeople of America on winning a small victory against DCM, says Rachael Morgan. Now it’s time for the same thing here…

AS of 30 April this year the US issued a ban on almost all uses of DCM (dichloromethane) including sprayable adhesives ‘protecting workers and communities from fatal exposure’.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalised its ban on this dangerous chemical known to cause liver cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, brain cancer, cancer of the blood, and cancer of the central nervous system, as well as neurotoxicity, liver harm and even death.

Quote The ‘EPA’s final rule will, among other things, prevent serious illness and death associated with uncontrolled exposures to the chemical by preventing consumer access to the chemical, restricting the industrial and commercial use of the chemical’.

Congratulations to the tradespeople of America on winning another small victory, reducing another risk at work, while here in the bubble of UK industry…. large sigh, eye roll!

I spend an awful lot of my time speaking to flooring professionals and distributors about the risks, preventative measures and it breaks my heart to see the lack of change by some of the most influential among us.

I read of new cases on the flooring forums month in, month out like Mike Rawles of Upton Carpets, who was given the news in 2023 we all fear, a frightening cancer diagnosis which had started in his throat and spread to the lymph node in his neck. Luckily Mike made a full recovery but so many don’t and won’t. So here I am – copy, paste, copy, paste – until I’ve reached you all.

Arm yourself with information
Here are a few things you should know about DCM or Dichloromethane before you use another can of DCM based sprayable adhesive:

  • DCM is the solvent carrier not the adhesive itself so choosing DCM Free alternative sprays removes the exposure risk.
  • 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.
    Here are a few things to bear in mind/you need to know when starting your DCM-free journey:
  • DCM-free spray adhesives are less volatile so flash a little slower therefore good ventilation is advised to speed drying.
  • The flash time doesn’t affect the adhesive performance.
  • DCM-free sprays may be more susceptible to low temperatures, so shake well before use and whenever possible store above 12 degrees.
  • DCM-free sprays may look wetter, this is normal and once the solvent has flashed it will look and feel like any other spray adhesive.
  • DCM-free sprays smell stronger, this can be for several reasons, DCM adhesives settle at ground level and to add to this DCM is virtually odourless whereas DCM-free alternatives the solvents rise and pass the nose and naturally are more odorous.
    It helps if you know what you’re looking for so here are some simple ways to identify a spray product containing DCM:
  • In the safety section there’ll be Hazard code H351: Suspected of causing cancer.
  • There will be the words: DANGER contains dichloromethane or methylene chloride.
  • The can will have a pictogram displayed which is a red diamond with a person with an exploding chest inside.
  • If you’re unsure about the product, you’re using request an SDS from your distributor or directly from the manufacturer.
  • Section 2 of the SDS will show you hazard indications and section 8 PPE and exposure controls.
    Be aware safety information is most often located on the reverse of the can. For those working in domestic environments it’s highly unlikely your customer will know the risks you’re potentially exposing them and their families to when you bring a DCM adhesive into their home but for now rather than asking your customer to suit up in the required PPE, here is some advice and simple steps to follow when you’re working with DCM that I urge you follow to keep you and your customers safe until you make the change:
  • Segregate your workspace and ensure there is adequate ventilation.
  • Ask the customer not to come into a room while you are working or directly after. Allow access only to those who understand the risk or who are appropriately trained and wearing PPE.
  • Ventilate the room before allowing the customer back into the room, open a window or use an extraction system for at least 15 minutes. For your own safety avoid working in poorly ventilated areas, eg bathrooms, cellars, stairwells without ventilation.
  • Advise the customer not to allow pets or small children in a room for 12 hours after installation as fumes can take time to disperse and remain at ground level for prolonged periods.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the room you’re working in and advise the customer not to do so. If the room you have fitted is a kitchen advise they ventilate thoroughly and clean surfaces as DCM can be absorbed through the skin.

    I hope at least something here helped you change the way you were thinking, working or protecting yourself for the better. I urge you all familiarise yourself with the safety data and control measures recommended by the HSE. But ultimately change will be the only way to eliminate all risk associated with DCM exposure, so ditch DCM in your sprayable adhesives today. As no matter how small or large a part they feature in your overall business, they shouldn’t be brushed aside or overlooked when striving for a safer working environment for yourself and your team.

    Every little change can make a difference to the improvement of your working environment. But don’t think change stops at your doorstep, far from it, we all have a responsibility to encourage the use of safer sprayable adhesives across the industry.

    Put pressure on your local distribution network to offer choice and do not simply settle for what’s on the shelf if you are not happy to use the DCM version. We should all have the right to say no to dichloromethane.
    Rachael Morgan is category manager, Quin Global
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