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.  

Those companies once again are pointing to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) update earlier this year of its 1987 policy statement warning consumers of acute hazards posed by certain methylene chloride-containing household products, including paint strippers.

CPSC updated its policy by providing non-binding guidance recommending additional labeling.  It did so in response to a petition from the Halogenated Solvents Industry Association (HSIA), which has expressly stated that it petitioned CPSC for a new label in an effort to stymie finalization of EPA’s proposal to ban such uses of methylene chloride.

A recent Inside EPA article [subscription required] cites industry sources suggesting that the CPSC guidance might give EPA an alternative to banning such products.  The article asserts that the guidance “could provide fodder for EPA to weaken the Obama-era proposed ban.”

To set the record straight:  CPSC itself has repeatedly indicated that its guidance in no way eliminates or reduces the need for EPA to finalize its proposed ban on methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products:  When issuing its guidance, CPSC clearly stated that the guidance “would not replace the EPA’s rulemaking and instead, would be an interim measure until the EPA may issue a regulation.” (emphasis added).  CPSC reiterated this in the guidance itself:  “[b]y updating the 1987 Statement, we do not suggest that labeling will address all hazards EPA identified in its proposed rulemaking.”

Last year, in preparing the Commission to consider the HSIA petition, CPSC staff stated:  “The Commission is aware of activities being undertaken by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, California’s Department for Toxic Substances Control, and ASTM International concerning certain products containing DCM, and staff supports their efforts to address the risks associated with DCM-containing products.” (emphasis added)

The CPSC guidance falls far short of what is needed for several additional reasons:

  • First, the guidance is not legally binding.
  • Second, CPSC only has authority over consumers, not workers; yet the latter is the subpopulation most often reported to be harmed through use of methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removal products.  In a June 2016 letter to EPA, CPSC supported EPA’s efforts to use TSCA to promulgate a ban: “Because TSCA gives EPA the ability to reach both occupational and consumer uses, we recognize that EPA may address risks associated with these chemicals in a more cohesive and coordinated manner given that CPSC lacks authority to address occupational hazards.”
  • Third, labeling is of extremely limited efficacy in controlling exposure.  CPSC’s guidance recognizes the limits of labeling: “Warnings research demonstrates that even small inconveniences to the consumer can have a substantial negative effect on behavioral compliance with a warning.” EPA’s proposed ban clearly indicated and extensively documented that labeling would be insufficient to mitigate the risks posed by these uses of methylene chloride to consumers and workers.

EDF is encouraged by EPA’s statement last week that it has decided move forward to finalize its proposed rule banning methylene chloride in paint stripping products.  We urge EPA to promptly finalize its ban – which is the only way to adequately protect public and worker health.

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