EDF to OMB: Ban on methylene chloride in paint strippers must protect workers in addition to consumers

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, and Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director


Over 11,000 concerned Americans have sent messages to Members of Congress over the last two weeks to urge EPA and OMB to protect workers – the population at most risk – from methylene chloride in paint strippers.

[/pullquote]Today, EDF met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft final rule on methylene chloride-based paint strippers. We urged the office to ensure the ban on methylene chloride-based paint and coating removers covers both consumer and most commercial uses – as the agency originally proposed.

Removing these deadly products from stores, workplaces, and homes is a critical step to protecting public health. Methylene chloride is acutely lethal. Exposure to the chemical has led to over 50 reported worker deaths since the mid-1980s, more than 40 of which are attributed to use of methylene chloride-based paint strippers. Many more deaths have likely gone unreported. The chemical is also associated with a host of other serious health effects, including neurotoxicity, cancer, and liver impairment.

Despite the facts that workers represent the vast majority of reported deaths and face the highest risks of other health effects, it appears that EPA is poised to finalize a rule that excludes a ban on commercial uses entirely – and will instead merely initiate a lengthy, uncertain process that may lead to certification and training approaches EPA had already considered and rejected as inadequate to protect workers.

During our meeting with OMB, we reiterated our full support for a ban on consumer uses, which is long overdue and absolutely necessary; but we urged that workers not be left behind. The key points we raised are the following:

  • EPA must act because it has already identified unreasonable risks. The evidence is overwhelming that methylene chloride-based paint and coating removers present unreasonable risks to both workers and consumers. In its 2014 risk assessment and 2017 proposed rule, EPA identified that the use of these products poses clear risks that are orders of magnitude higher than acceptable levels for both cancer and non-cancer health effects. EPA is legally obligated under TSCA to mitigate the unreasonable risks it has identified – to workers in addition to consumers.
  • A ban is the only option that provides sufficient protection. The record is clear that approaches short of a ban, such as certification and training programs, are not sufficient to address the risks to workers EPA identified. A simple ban on commercial uses of methylene chloride would also be far less costly, easier to implement, and more effective than risk management through a certification system or occupational respiratory protection program. EPA discussed and rejected both approaches in its proposed rule, due to their major limitations.
  • Without a commercial ban, EPA cannot fully prevent consumer use. EPA’s apparent bifurcation of its approaches to address consumer and commercial uses could still allow consumers to gain access to such products intended for commercial use.
  • TSCA only allows exemptions from restrictions needed to mitigate unreasonable risks for uses of a chemical that are critical or essential. The law provides no basis for EPA to exclude from restrictions any non-critical or non-essential uses – yet that appears to be what EPA is doing by excluding all commercial uses from the ban.

In the last two weeks, more than 11,000 concerned Americans have also voiced concern over any ban that leaves workers unprotected, by sending over 35,000 messages to their Members of Congress demanding that OMB and EPA finalize a ban covering both consumer and most commercial uses.

The health threat posed by methylene chloride in paint strippers to workers, consumers, and the general public isn’t up for debate. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. EDF strongly urges EPA to finalize a ban that protects all Americans.

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