Tomorrow, the Trump EPA will announce the formal withdrawal of proposed bans on high-risk uses of the dangerous chemicals methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, and N-methylpyrrolidone. By taking this action, the Trump EPA seeks to prevent the new administration from finalizing any of these bans without starting the process over.
“It appears that blocking these bans and denying crucial protections to workers and consumers for four years was not enough for the Trump EPA. This shameful move that epitomizes the Trump EPA’s concerted attacks on public health is a transparent attempt to further constrain the incoming administration. It is yet another stain on Mr. Wheeler’s dismal record,” said Dr. Richard Denison, Lead Senior Scientist, EDF Health. “We are counting down the days until the EPA’s decisions, once again, reflect its mission to protect health and the environment.”
During the debate on the overhaul to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016, there was broad agreement that EPA would need to take quick action to address particularly risky uses of dangerous chemicals. A broad array of stakeholders agreed this was the best way to build confidence in the new law early on. The amendments to TSCA, therefore, specifically authorized EPA to adopt such restrictions. In that spirit, in late 2016 and early 2017 under the Obama administration, EPA proposed to ban or restrict:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE) in aerosol degreasing and spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities and vapor degreasing. TCE is a known human carcinogen that leads to fetal heart defects.
- Methylene chloride in paint strippers. It is acutely lethal and linked to liver and lung cancer. Its use in paint strippers has resulted in at least 83 deaths in the last several decades.
- N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint strippers. NMP is linked to fetal development problems including low birth weight and birth defects.
Enter the Trump administration. In December 2017, it effectively shelved these bans in its unified regulatory agenda. EPA then went a step further, stating it would start from scratch and reassess the high-risk uses as part of a separate process under TSCA, delaying any possible action for years.
For methylene chloride, in response to pressure from the families of people who had died from using paint strippers using the chemical, the agency finally issued a weakened ban covering only consumer uses of paint strippers in March 2019 – leaving commercial uses unchecked. By excluding commercial uses from the ban, it leaves millions of workers wholly unprotected, despite the fact that they constitute the majority of reported deaths from these products.
The decision to formally withdraw these bans demonstrates, once again, the Trump EPA’s utter disdain for protecting our health and its devotion to elevating narrow private interests over those of the public. Sadly, it is also in keeping with the Trump administration’s unrelenting efforts to hamper the new administration’s efforts to take health-protective action.
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