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What are the hazardous exposures in body shops?

Spraying paint puts isocyanate in the air.


Isocyanates, a group of chemicals found in most hardeners, are particularly hazardous and can cause asthma or severe breathing problems in some people. Isocyanates are also respiratory irritants and can cause coughing and other respiratory effects, which can be measured in a breathing test.

Isocyanates are released into the air when paint is sprayed. Once you are exposed to isocyanates, you may become sensitized and begin to have respiratory symptoms. This can happen to some individuals even after very short exposures to small amounts of isocyanates.

Even skin contact with uncured isocyanate may cause you to become sensitized.

Many solvents are used in body shops.


You can become exposed to solvents by breathing them in or getting them on your skin. Many solvents will pass right through your skin. Solvents get into the air by evaporating from open cans and drying paint, or by being sprayed. Once in the air you can inhale them. These chemicals can harm many parts of your body including your brain, skin, liver, kidneys and respiratory system.

Dry sanding paint puts dust in the air and on your skin.

Dusts and metals

Old paint residues may contain lead, chromium and other toxic materials and if you breathe them in or ingest them, your lungs, nervous system and other organs, such as the liver or kidneys, may be harmed. Even at very low exposure levels, lead has been shown to cause depression, and sleep disorders. Chromium has been linked to lung cancer. Breathing dust will also irritate your lungs and breathing tubes.

Other exposures

Spray-on truck bed liners and brake and clutch repair present special problems for autobody workers. You should also take special precautions to protect your eyes and your hearing.

Labels have some information you need to know. More is in the MSDS.

How do I know what is in the products I am using?

The labels on your products contain some information and you can learn much more from the manufacturer’s material safety data sheet, sometimes called a MSDS. You should carefully review the MSDS for each of the materials you handle and follow their precautions.