The most common chemical hazards in body shops are the solvents -- it is the solvents that you can smell. Many tasks performed in autobody shops can result in workers being exposed to solvents – such as when mixing coatings, spraying coatings and cleaning equipment.
How do you get exposed to solvents?
The most common ways are by breathing them in or getting them on your skin. Solvents get into the air by evaporating from open cans and drying paint, or by being sprayed. Almost all of the components of the paint and other coatings you mix contain several different solvents in varying amounts. These solvents hold the paint components, the resins and pigments, in liquid form so it can be sprayed. Once sprayed the solvents evaporate allowing the resins to harden. When solvents evaporate, you can inhale them.
Common solvents that can be measured in the air of body shops:
- methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)
- methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK)
- ethyl acetate
- styrene (from body filler/bondo)
- ethyl benzene
The exact solvents in each product will be listed on its material safety data sheet (MSDS) as well as on the label
Most solvents have similar health effects
They can harm many parts of your body including your brain, skin, liver, kidneys and respiratory system. Like drinking alcohol, most are central nervous system depressants. They can cause dizziness, disorientation, headaches, sleepiness, and a feeling of being “high”, when inhaled at high concentrations. Exposure over many years may also harm your liver.
What if you get solvent on your skin?
Autobody workers are usually exposed to solvents by inhaling them but you can also be exposed if solvents come in direct contact with your skin. Many solvents will pass right through your skin. Solvents will also remove the oils in your skin, leaving your hands very dry and cracked, if your skin comes in direct contact with a solvent, or is immersed in solvent.