Dichloromethane: All You Need to Know
Dichloromethane, a colorless organic solvent, is immiscible but volatile. It’s slightly sweet-smelling and its scent is often said to be similar to chloroform. Also known as DCM or methylene chloride, it’s an essential solvent used by chemists in manufacturing as well as food lab settings and is sold through chemical supply companies.
History of DCM
Dichloromethane is not a recent discovery. It was first prepared in 1839 by a French chemist Henri Victor Regnault, who was able to isolate DCM from a mixture of chloromethane and chlorine that had been left in the sunlight. Its high volatility was widely used for industrial purposes during World War II. Between 1960 and 1980, chemical manufacturers increased production from 93,000 metric tons to 570,000 metric tons.
Methylene Chloride is a powerful solvent, and for that reason, a decaffeination-grade version is used in the extraction of heat-sensitive substances such as fats, butter, caffeine, and hops in food products. It’s often used in paint, varnish, coating-removal products, insecticides, and bathtub refinishing. But it also has a variety of other uses in the medical industry, for pharmaceutical applications and in manufacturing. In the pharmaceutical industry, Dichloromethane is often used in blending manufacturing, where solids are mixed with solids, or bulk solids are mixed with a small amount of liquid to produce tablets.
Grades of Methylene Chlorides
Chemical suppliers can provide different grades of methylene chloride to fit the task. DCM is available in several grades due to its variety of uses across different industries:
- Technical-grade DCM is widely used in the electronics industry for the production of printed circuit boards.
- Aerosol-grade is used as a solvent, a flammability suppressant, and viscosity thinner.
- Vapour degreasing grade is often used for degreasing temperature-sensitive parts.
- Special-grade DCM replaces fluorocarbons in the production of polyurethane foams in the furniture and bedding industry.
- Urethane-grade solvents provide a maximum water level of .05 wt.%.
- Food and pharmaceutical-grade, including decaffeination grade, has a higher DCM purity and is used as an extractant and purification agent for food and pharmaceuticals.
Health Risks and Exposure to DCM
Dichloromethane is an organic solvent and does not occur naturally in the environment. But because of its high volatility, it evaporates easily and can be inhaled, which is one of the most common forms of exposure. Exposure can be intensified due to DCM’s stability, meaning it stays in the air for long periods of time before dissipation, and that can be fatal.
DCM can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning, neurotoxicity, memory impairment, decreased motor activity, and a loss of consciousness if inhaled. Additionally, DCM has been linked with cancers in workers who were continually exposed to Dichloromethane through their occupations. However, human studies have been limited and inconclusive.
For more information on available grades of DCM, along with safety data sheets on solvents and other chemicals, contact chemical supply companies.
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