Solvents in Construction
CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training
Solvents are liquids used to:
Solvents are in adhesives, carpet glues, cleaning fluids, epoxy resins,
hardeners, lacquers, mastics (asphalt or coal-tar), paints, paint thinners,
and primers. They're used to clean tools, too.
- Dissolve greases,
oils, and paints
- Thin or mix pigments,
paints, glues, pesticides, and epoxy resins.
Examples of solvents
are acetone, alcohol, benzene, epichlorohydrin, esters, gasoline, glycol
ethers, heptane, hexane, kerosene, ketones, methanol, methylene chloride,
mineral spirits, naphtha, toluene, trichloroethane (methyl chloroform),
turpentine, and xylene.
You can be exposed
to solvents if you:
Many solvents can
catch fire, even in cold weather.
them (This can happen when you mix glue or paint or spray
or brush them because solvents evaporate fast.)
- Get them
on your skin (Many solvents can go through your skin. For some
solvents, the danger is as bad as if you breathe them).
them. Solvents get into body fat in the skin, nerves, and brain.
Very small exposures
over many months can harm you. So can one large exposure. A very large
exposure can kill you.
Working with solvents
can make you feel dizzy, uncoordinated, like a drunk or cause
headaches, nausea, stomach pains, skin rashes, cracking or bleeding
skin, or irritated eyes, nose, and throat.
Some solvents can
blind you, destroy your kidneys or liver, or affect your nervous system.
Some solvents can add to your risk of irregular heart beats, which can
kill you. Some can cause cancer.
This is what you
- Read the
labels and the MSDS (material safety data sheet) for each solvent
you will use.
- Replace solvents
when you can. If you use water-based (latex) paints, you don't
need to use thinners or cleaners that have solvents.
- Don't get
solvents on your skin. Don't use solvents to wash paint off your
hands. When you use gloves, check the manufacturer's instructions
to make sure the gloves protect against the solvent you are using.
When you clean oil-based paint from brushes, wear gloves.
- Wash your
hands before you smoke, eat, or drink. If you don't, you can swallow
solvents by mistake. Don't smoke, eat, or drink where solvents are
- Try not to
breathe solvents. Use the smallest container you can. Keep lids
on paint or glue cans or degreasing units when they are not being
used. Throw out rags that have solvents on them. Keep your face away
from solvents. Use a long-handled paint roller.
- Work with
solvents only where there is fresh air. You can't always smell solvents.
You may have to work indoors — to glue tile or spray-paint a wall
— or in a trench or other confined space with solvents. If you do,
set an exhaust fan to pull the vapors away from you. (Indoors, try
to have one fan in a window pull vapors outdoors and a fan to pull
in air from outside the room.)
and gloves are used when nothing else helps.
dust masks will not protect you against solvents. You need
at least a half-mask respirator approved by the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that has an organic-vapor
cartridge. Respirator cartridges must be changed regularly — often
once per shift, or more.
- An organic-vapor
cartridge may not be enough against some solvent vapors that
can cause cancer, like methylene chloride. For those chemicals,
OSHA and NIOSH recommend only supplied-air respirators with air
- OSHA says
you must have a full respiratory protection program, if respirators
are used. This means proper selection and fitting of respirators,
medical screening of workers for fitness to wear a respirator, and
worker training. Correct storage and cleaning of respirators, and
an evaluation of the program are also needed.
- To prevent
fires, when you throw out rags that have solvents, put them in
- If you think
there is a problem, exposure levels can be measured with special
equipment. For more information, call your local union, CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) (301-578-8500 or www.cpwr.com
), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (1-800-35-NIOSH
), or OSHA (1-800-321-OSHA or www.osha.gov). Or go to www.elcosh.org.
This document appears in the eLCOSH website with the permission of the
author and/or copyright holder and may not be reproduced without their
consent. eLCOSH is an information clearinghouse. eLCOSH and its sponsors
are not responsible for the accuracy of information provided on this
web site, nor for its use or misuse.
© 2001, CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). All rights reserved.
CPWR is a research and development arm of the Building and Construction
Trades Department (BCTD), AFL-CIO: CPWR, Suite 1000, 8484 Georgia Ave.,
Silver Spring, MD 20910. (Edward C. Sullivan is president of the BCTD
and of CPWR and Joseph Maloney is secretary treasurer.) Production of
this card was supported by grants UO2/CCU310982 and UO2/CCU312014 from
NIOSH. The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and
do not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH.
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