Ban on methylene chloride in paint strippers falls short

Following years of delay, in late March 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that bans methylene chloride in paint strippers for consumer uses but still allows use of the deadly products in workplaces, where the great majority of deaths have occurred. While this step provides long-overdue protection of consumers, it falls far short of what is needed to protect all Americans.

Instead of banning commercial uses, as the agency originally proposed to do nearly three years ago, Trump’s EPA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that merely starts a process to gather input on what a possible future certification and training program might look like – delaying any real action for years and forgoing a commercial ban altogether.

Background on the ban

Methylene chloride is highly neurotoxic, and acutely lethal. There have been many dozens of deaths from acute exposure over the last thirty-five years – though many more likely have gone unreported. The chemical is also associated with a host of other serious health effects, including neurotoxicity, cancer, and liver impairment.

In January 2017, EPA proposed a rule to ban consumer and most commercial uses of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products under TSCA. For over two years, the Trump EPA stalled finalization of the ban, and in the time that the EPA delayed action, several young healthy men lost their lives to products containing the deadly chemical.

The step to finalize the consumer ban only came after significant advocacy efforts by families that lost loved ones to the chemical, leadership shown by major retailers that made public commitments to pull deadly paint strippers from their shelves, and pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and advocacy organizations.

Why the ban doesn't go far enough

By excluding commercial uses from the ban, EPA is leaving workers unprotected, with weak rationale. In the final ban, the agency acknowledged the products present unreasonable risks to consumers – yet workers are at even higher risk and the vast majority of reported deaths have occurred in the workplace.

In the proposed rule in 2017, EPA considered but rejected a training and certification program for workers as too costly and burdensome on business. But the Trump Administration has revived this approach without even mentioning, let alone rebutting, the analysis the agency previously considered.

What's next

For commercial uses, EPA went back to square one and is now re-assessing the risk to workers from paint strippers along with other uses of methylene chloride. In doing so, the agency is using assumptions and weak standards that are dramatically underestimating the risks this chemical poses to workers. And it’s delaying by years actions needed to protect workers from the dangers posed by methylene chloride paint strippers.