EPA to ban Methylene Chloride in Paint Strippers

  • EPA to ban Methylene Chloride in Paint Strippers (c) Sashkin/ShutterstockEPA to ban Methylene Chloride in Paint Strippers (c) Sashkin/Shutterstock

In an unusual about-face, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated it will follow through on an Obama-era legislative proposal – in this case banning paint strippers containing methylene chloride.

According to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the chemical used both by professionals and do-it-yourselfers to remove paint has caused a number of deaths.

A spokesman for the EPA told US media that the agency’s announcement of plans to proceed with the ban demonstrates its commitment to finalize the phase-out that it indicated in December 2017 might be delayed indefinitely. He said the agency will not revise 2014 risk assessments that found inhaling the paint-stripping fumes to be dangerous but instead rely on previous risk assessments.

The EPA’s initial proposal to end the use of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products followed passage of the new Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 2016, also called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This amended the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and gave the environmental watchdog powers to restrict substances in some uses.

Under current administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA has moved to repeal or water down a number of rules passed during the last administration, in particular in response to industries with strong lobbies. If the agency does go through with this ban, it would be the first such rule to be left standing.

In its December announcement, the agency had said it planned to conduct a lengthy review of methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) used in paint strippers along with another toxic  consumer chemical, tricholorethylene (TCE) in dry cleaning and degreasing applications.

Along with environmental groups, a ban has been advocated by Democratic Party legislators, who invoked the deaths of two children from methylene chloride exposure and told Pruitt his tactics “make a mockery” of the hard-won chemical reform legislation.

While environment and safety advocates said they were encouraged by the EPA’s announcement, they said they would not uncork any champagne until it is “sure that paint strippers containing the deadly chemical are off the market.”

The American Chemistry Council, representing US chemical producers, was cautious of the EPA’s change of strategy; however, it acknowledged the agency’s authority to move ahead on specific applications.

Methylene chloride’s use has been restricted in the US workplace since 1997, when the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its own restrictions.

 Those standards did not cover consumers who can buy methylene chloride products at retail outlets.

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