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Home Methylene Chloride

Dichloromethane

Dichloromethane (DCM or methylene chloride) is an organic compound with the formula CH2Cl2. This colorless, volatile liquid with a moderately sweet aroma is widely used as a solvent. Although it is not miscible with water, it is miscible with many organic solvents. It was first prepared in 1840 by the French chemist Henri Victor Regnault, who isolated it from a mixture of chloromethane and chlorine that had been exposed to sunlight.

Production

Dichloromethane is produced by treating either methyl chloride or methane with chlorine gas at 400–500 °C. At these temperatures, both methane and methyl chloride undergo a series of reactions producing progressively more chlorinated products.

CH4 + Cl2 → CH3Cl + HCl
CH3Cl + Cl2 → CH2Cl2 + HCl
CH2Cl2 + Cl2 → CHCl3 + HCl
CHCl3 + Cl2 → CCl4 + HCl

The output of these processes is a mixture of methyl chloride, dichloromethane, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride. These compounds are separated by distillation.

Uses

Dichloromethane's volatility and ability to dissolve a wide range of organic compounds makes it a useful solvent for many chemical processes. Concerns about its health effects have led to a search for alternatives in many of these applications.

It is widely used as a paint stripper and a degreaser. In the food industry, it has been used to decaffeinate coffee and tea as well as to prepare extracts of hops and other flavorings. Its volatility has led to its use as an aerosol spray propellant and as a blowing agent for polyurethane foams.

Specialized uses

The chemical compound's low boiling point allows the chemical to function as a heat engine that can extract movement from low grade temperatures. An example of a Dichloromethane heat engine is the drinking bird. The toy works at room temperature.

Dichloromethane chemically welds certain plastics; for example, it is used to seal the casing of electric meters. Often sold as a main component of plastic welding adhesives, it is also used extensively by model building hobbyists for joining plastic components together — it is commonly referred to as "Di-clo."

It is also used in the garment printing industry for removal of heat-sealed garment transfers, and its volatility is exploited in novelty items — bubble lights and jukebox displays.

Dichloromethane is used within the material testing field of civil engineering; specifically it is used during the testing of bituminous materials as a solvent to separate the binder from the aggregate of an asphalt or macadam to allow the testing of the materials.

Toxicity

Dichloromethane is the least toxic of the simple chlorohydrocarbons, but it is not without its health risks as its high volatility makes it an acute inhalation hazard. Dichloromethane is also metabolized by the body to carbon monoxide potentially leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Acute exposure by inhalation has resulted in optic neuropathy and hepatitis. Prolonged skin contact can result in the dichloromethane dissolving some of the fatty tissues in skin, resulting in skin irritation or chemical burns.

It may be carcinogenic, as it has been linked to cancer of the lungs, liver, and pancreas in laboratory animals. Dichloromethane crosses the placenta. Fetal toxicity in women who are exposed to it during pregnancy, however, has not been proven. In animal experiments, it was fetotoxic at doses that were maternally toxic but no teratogenic effects were seen.

In many countries, products containing dichloromethane must carry labels warning of its health risks.

In the European Union, the European Parliament voted in 2009 to ban the use of dichloromethane in paint-strippers for consumers and many professionals. The ban took effect in December 2010.

In Europe, the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) recommends for dichloromethane an occupational exposure limit (8h time-weighted average) of 100 ppm and a short-term exposure limit (15 min) of 200 ppm.