EDF Health

Selected tag(s): methylene chloride

One click away: We discovered just how easy it still is to purchase deadly paint strippers

Sam Lovell, Project Specialist, and Andrew ReaganCampaign Project Manager.

Methylene chloride is a deadly chemical used in common paint stripping products. It is known to have caused over 50 deaths from acute exposure – though many more likely have gone unreported. Health impacts from lower-level, chronic exposure to the chemical through use of these products, while much harder to measure, have no doubt occurred as well. Due to its health risks, the EPA proposed a rule to ban consumer and most commercial uses of the chemical in paint and coating removal products on January 12, 2017. Over a year and a half later, the ban on methylene chloride in paint strippers still has not been finalized.

As the current Administration continues to delay action on this critical ban, some companies have stepped up and committed to take paint strippers containing methylene chloride off their shelves. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to protect all consumers or workers. We found out that it’s still shockingly easy to buy products containing the chemical from other companies – it’s a simple click away.

To figure out just how easy it is, we searched for “paint stripper” and “paint remover” on Amazon. On the first page of our search results were several products containing methylene chloride. (This information is not at all obvious to consumers – you need to read the fine print on the product description.)

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Walmart joins ranks of retailers pulling toxic paint strippers from shelves – when will EPA follow suit?

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

Today, Walmart announced that it will stop selling paint strippers containing methylene chloride or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in stores by February 2019 – making it the first general merchandise retailer to take such action.  Walmart’s announcement follows the strong leadership demonstrated by Lowes, Home Depot, and Sherwin Williams, all of which have committed not to sell methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint stripping products by the end of the year.  Importantly, Walmart’s action goes beyond its U.S. stores, including those in Mexico, Canada, and Central America, as well as their online store.

The announcement signals an important step by Walmart to better protect consumers from dangerous paint strippers. Methylene chloride is highly neurotoxic and acutely lethal. The chemical is responsible for over 50 reported deaths from acute exposure over the last 35 years – though many more likely have gone unreported. NMP is linked to fetal development problems, including low birth weight and birth defects.

EDF has advocated for several years for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban both methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint strippers, using its enhanced authority under the reformed Toxic Substance Control Act.  In January 2017, EPA proposed to ban methylene chloride and restrict NMP in paint strippers, but action has stalled under the Trump Administration.  For over a year, the agency made no effort to finalize these actions – even taking steps to delay any progress.

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Methylene chloride in paint strippers: A ban is the only health-protective path forward

Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager and Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Last week, EPA signaled it will advance a delayed rule regulating consumer and worker use of methylene chloride-based paint strippers.  Numerous details of EPA’s announcement remain to be filled in, and we caution EPA to avoid approaches short of the ban that was proposed.

The record for EPA’s proposed ban is clear:  Allowing such products to stay on the market based on reliance on such factors as increased labeling, protective equipment, or training requirements simply will not protect the public’s or workers’ health.

Sadly, the companies that make the chemical and paint strippers containing it are already seeking to resurrect those old arguments.   Read More »

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Critical “blanks” in EPA’s methylene chloride announcement need to be filled in if it is to be health-protective

EPA’s announcement that it will move forward on its proposed rule to ban the use of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products, while encouraging, left critical details unanswered.  We look forward to EPA filling in the blanks.

EDF posted a statement earlier on the announcement here.  In addition, here are five things the final rule must do to be health-protective:

  • Ban distribution in commerce and use of methylene chloride for paint and coating removal
  • Extend to both consumer and commercial uses to ensure that workers are also protected
  • Not provide exemptions based on training, labeling or use of protective equipment
  • Be finalized and implemented quickly
  • Require full compliance within as short as possible a period

 

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Encouraging EPA Response to Families on Deadly Paint Stripping Chemical

This statement is attributable to Dr. Sarah Vogel, Vice President for Health, Environmental Defense Fund:

“On Tuesday, Wendy Hartley and Cindy Wynne – both of whom lost their sons to methylene chloride exposure – met with members of Congress and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, asking that use of this deadly chemical in paint and coating removal products be banned.

We are encouraged that today EPA has decided to reverse course and move forward to finalize its proposed rule banning methylene chloride in these products.  We are also encouraged that EPA is not re-evaluating the paint stripping uses of methylene chloride and is relying on its previous risk assessments, which found very high risks to consumers and workers from these products.

It needs to be noted that EPA’s statement falls short of committing to finalize a ban.  It is vitally important that EPA move quickly to implement a ban, and that includes ensuring necessary administrative procedures are followed to guarantee a permanent ban and that these products are promptly removed from store shelves. We and families across this country will be watching closely to make sure this Administration actually delivers on today’s promise from Administrator Pruitt.

The credit for any step forward here belongs entirely to the brave members of the Hartley, Wynne and Atkins families who, to honor their sons and protect all of us, fought to ban this deadly chemical. They received important support from Senators Graham, Carper, Scott, and Udall and Representatives Sanford, Pallone, DeGette, Tonko, and Lowey, and others.

We will delay any celebration until paint strippers containing this deadly chemical are actually off the market.  There are a number of steps that now must be taken in order to effectively finalize and implement this ban.

But if methylene chloride in paint strippers is effectively removed from the marketplace, it will be a good day for American families.”

 

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In 2016 industry-funded paper, Dourson and Beck sought weaker standard for lethal paint stripper chemical

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[Use this link to see all of our posts on Dourson.]

[See clarification added on 10-26-17 in brackets below.]

The New York Times’ investigation “Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots” published this past Sunday cited evidence that Nancy Beck – a political appointee in EPA’s chemical safety office who until May was a senior official at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) – is questioning the need for EPA’s proposed rule to ban the use of the deadly chemical dichloromethane (also called methylene chloride) in paint and coating removers.  These products are responsible for dozens of deaths in recent years.

The Times’ story also noted in its last paragraph that Beck and Michael Dourson – the Trump Administration’s controversial nominee to lead EPA’s chemical safety office – are co-authors on a 2016 paper that was funded by ACC.  That paper was published in the industry’s go-to journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, where Dourson has published most of his papers.

The paper is of interest and relevant for another reason as well:  Dourson and Beck assert that the acceptable risk levels EPA has set for 24 chemicals are all too stringent and should be relaxed by anywhere from 2.5 to 150 fold.  (Funny, isn’t it, how the numbers for all 24 chemicals all went in the same direction?)

Among these 24 chemicals is the paint-stripping chemical dichloromethane (aka methylene chloride).  This chemical is a particularly concerning one:  It is a likely carcinogen and is linked to numerous other chronic health impacts, but it is also acutely and tragically lethal.   Dourson and Beck call for EPA’s standard for the chemical to be relaxed to a level that is 8.3 times less protective. [Clarification added 10-26-17:  This factor applies to EPA's ingestion standard (reference dose); Dourson and Beck's proposed adjustment to EPA's inhalation standard (reference concentration) was 2.5-fold less protective.]

The Times article makes clear that, despite her prior work on this chemical while at ACC, and the fact that this chemical is made by numerous ACC companies, Beck has not recused herself from making decisions about its risk and regulatory responses – decisions that are being considered at EPA even as I write.  Indeed, as I noted earlier this week, her astounding ethics agreement gives her wide latitude to work on issues in which ACC has financial interests in order to ensure those interests are taken into account.

In Dourson’s nomination hearing held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on October 4, he was repeatedly asked if he would, if confirmed, recuse himself from work on chemicals he had been paid by industry to work on, and he repeatedly refused to say he would do so.

One more reason that Michael Dourson should not be entrusted with our health and the Senate should reject his nomination to head EPA’s toxics office.

Just yesterday, Dourson’s nomination was voted out of the committee by an 11-10 vote.  The fight over his nomination now moves to the full Senate.

 

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