Only a 2-month wait, down from 28 years: New EPA risk assessments find paint stripper chemicals pose significant health risks

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

In June, I blogged about the first final risk assessment EPA had issued in 28 years using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), for the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE).  Happily, we only had to wait two months for EPA’s TSCA office to issue final risk assessments for three more chemicals.

One of the three is dichloromethane (DCM), also known as methylene chloride.  DCM is a common ingredient of paint strippers, the use on which EPA’s risk assessment focused.  As with TCE, EPA found DCM-laden paint strippers pose significant health risks to workers, consumers and the general public.  Here’s what EPA said in its press release:

The risk assessment for Dichloromethane (DCM), which is widely used in paint stripping products, indicates health risks to both workers and consumers who use these products, and to bystanders in workplaces and residences where DCM is used.  EPA estimates that more than 230,000 workers nationwide are directly exposed to DCM from DCM-containing paint strippers.

The DCM final risk assessment is the second issued for a group of 83 “work plan chemicals” EPA identified in 2012 as needing risk assessments and, where warranted, risk management.  Another of those chemicals – N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) – is also widely used in paint strippers. 

While EPA has not yet completed its risk assessment for NMP, the agency said today it expects the final document will uphold the conclusion of the draft assessment:  that NMP-containing paint strippers also pose significant risks.  For that reason, EPA “recommends that those using NMP-containing paint strippers also take measures to minimize exposure.”

EPA also released risk assessments for two other chemicals that focused exclusively on ecological risks:  antimony trioxide (ATO), used to enhance the function of halogenated flame retardants; and HHCB, an ingredient in some fragrances used in commercial and consumer products.  EPA’s assessments of these chemicals did not find appreciable ecological risks.

As with TCE, for DCM the agency notes “EPA is considering a range of possible voluntary and regulatory actions to address concerns and anticipates conducting a workshop in late fall to engage key stakeholders and the public on potential alternatives and risk reduction approaches.

It is good news that EPA has been able to complete these additional risk assessments, and that we didn’t have to wait years or decades to see it happen.  Now it is essential that the agency act as expeditiously as possible to address the serious risks to worker, consumer and public health it has identified.


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