EDF Health

Selected tag(s): TSCA Reform

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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Remarks at EPA stakeholder meeting on New Chemicals Review Program

Joanna Slaney is the Legislative Director for EDF Health.

Today the EPA held a public meeting on the new requirements for the New Chemicals Review Program under the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act. EDF oral comments, as prepared for delivery, follow below.

Strong implementation restores public and market confidence.

EDF believes that the reforms to the New Chemicals program in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, and the robust implementation of these reforms by the EPA, are absolutely essential to the task of restoring public and market confidence in our national chemical safety system. It is this shared objective, restoring public and market confidence, that allowed disparate stakeholders and lawmakers to come together to support the Lautenberg Act in the first place. And without a strong New Chemicals program, there is no restored public confidence.

Without a strong New Chemicals program, there is no restored public confidence.

It’s a public health issue.

With between 500 and 1,000 new chemicals entering the market every year, ensuring the safety of these chemicals is clearly a public health priority. It is critical that new chemicals clear a safety bar before they are allowed in products and in our homes. For decades, chemicals have been allowed on the market simply because there wasn’t enough information to make a safety decision one way or another. In 2007 EPA reported that 85% of pre-manufacture notices contained no health data. That’s not right, and it puts the public’s health at risk, most especially the health of vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, and workers. Any chemical entering the market should be reviewed and managed to provide a reasonable assurance of its safety. In fact, I expect that most Americans believe that their government already does so in order to protect their health and the health of their families.

It’s congressional intent.

Many in Congress worked hard to drive significant improvements to the new chemicals provisions in the new law; indeed, for some it was a central reason for their involvement in reforming TSCA. And the record is clear that even where certain Members were less inclined to see the need for change, they acknowledged that significant changes were made to the New Chemicals program as part of the compromise legislation. The changes that were made were a compromise on both sides but they were not insignificant, and the new requirements are clearly laid out in the language of the Lautenberg Act.

It’s a primary purpose of TSCA.

It has been argued that EPA’s implementation of the new chemicals program under the Lautenberg Act risks impeding innovation and is at odds with the intent of the law. In fact, the intent of the law is quite clear:

It is the policy of the United States that— authority over chemical substances and mixtures should be exercised in such a manner as not to impede unduly or create unnecessary economic barriers to technological innovation while fulfilling the primary purpose of this Act to assure that such innovation and commerce in such chemical substances and mixtures do not present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.

While innovation is central, it cannot come at the expense of protection for public health and the environment. Innovation without safety is not true innovation.

The changes made to the New Chemicals program are fundamental to the reform of TSCA and the promise of the new system. Given that the development and application of new chemicals are a clear source of innovation, how else is that primary purpose of TSCA – providing an assurance that innovation and commerce in chemicals do not present unreasonable risk – to be realized other than through robust scrutiny of new chemicals prior to their commercialization.

The public has a right to expect that chemicals to which they may be exposed will not be allowed into use without adequate assurance of their safety.  The lack of that basic assurance has undermined consumer confidence in our chemical safety system.  The most efficient and effective stage at which to provide assurance of safety is before commercial production and use begins, rather than waiting and then having to try to mitigate risks that arise after a new chemical is embedded in commerce.

Environmental Defense Fund supports the actions taken by EPA to date in implementing the New Chemicals Program and believes they are clearly required under the new law.  We look forward to EPA continuing to implement a robust New Chemicals program that can restore public and market confidence in our national chemical safety system, while both protecting human health and the environment and fostering safe innovation.

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