Banning methylene chloride in paint strippers

In January 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to ban consumer and most commercial uses of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products under TSCA. Products containing methylene chloride (also called DCM, dichloromethane, or dimethyl chloride) can readily be found in hardware stores across the country and are used by workers and consumers for jobs such as refinishing a bathtub or removing paint.

For over a year, the EPA made no effort to finalize the ban – but in May, after meeting with families whose sons had died from using methylene chloride-based paint strippers, former EPA Administrator Pruitt announced his intention to finalize the rule. EDF is cautiously optimistic about EPA’s announcement, and urges EPA to promptly finalize the ban – which is the only way to adequately protect public and worker health.

Why ban methylene chloride?

Methylene chloride is highly neurotoxic, and acutely lethal. There have been over 50 deaths from acute exposure over the last thirty-five years – though many more likely have gone unreported. Many of these deaths have been associated with the use of methylene chloride-based paint stripping products in confined spaces. Recent CBS news segments have covered the tragic stories of Kevin Hartley and Drew Wynne who both were killed in separate incidents in 2017 while using methylene chloride-based paint strippers.

The EPA fact sheet on the ban cites not only lethal risks from acute exposures to methylene chloride from use in paint and coating removal products, but also a host of other acute and chronic health impacts, like harm to the central nervous system, liver toxicity, and cancer.

Despite the serious risks to human health and the availability of safer alternatives, products containing the chemical remain on shelves across the country.

Why hasn't the EPA finalized the ban?

Deep industry ties to and conflicts of interest within the EPA resulted in the agency slow-walking critical action to protect Americans from toxic chemicals. Under the Trump Administration, EPA has reversed course on progress made when Congress reformed the nation’s main chemical safety law in 2016. Through lobbying efforts, delay tactics, and industry influence within EPA’s leadership, the chemical industry pushed the agency to shelve the proposed ban on methylene chloride in paint strippers.

But there is new reason for hope. In March, after meeting with the family of Drew Wynne, South Carolina Republican Senators Graham and Scott as well as Representative Sanford sent a letter to former Administrator Pruitt urging EPA to swiftly finalize a rule to restrict methylene chloride under TSCA. In May, the mothers of Kevin Hartley and Drew Wynne returned to Washington, DC and met with Pruitt, asking him to promptly finalize the ban. Just two days later, EPA announced its intention to finalize the methylene chloride rule, although the announcement stopped short of saying the rule would impose a ban.

EDF is cautiously optimistic about EPA’s statement, and will remain engaged until paint strippers containing this deadly chemical are off the market and out of workplaces.

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