EPA bans consumer sales of lethal chemical found in paint strippers

EPA bans consumer sales of lethal chemical found in paint strippers
© Getty

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is banning a deadly chemical, often used in paint strippers, from being sold to consumers after a long campaign from safety advocates.

The EPA said Friday that it was putting forth a final rule to remove the chemical methylene chloride from the retail consumer marketplace and prohibit the manufacturing, importation and processing of the chemical for consumer use.

Consumer advocates and environmentalists have long argued that methylene chloride is dangerous for humans to handle, linking it to a number of child and worker deaths.

Trump administration officials over the past two years have met with advocates and family members of individuals whose deaths were linked to the chemical to discuss ways to better regulate the substance.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Families have lost loved ones from exposure. Methylene chloride can rapidly cause dizziness, loss of consciousness and death — EPA is especially concerned of use in enclosed spaces,” said Alexandra Dunn, EPA assistant administrator for chemical safety, on a call with reporters Friday.

“We answered the call for many affected families to ensure that no other families experience the death of someone close to them from this chemical.”

EPA’s decision stops short of a full ban, leaving the door open for commercial sales of the chemical to industry.

Instead the agency said it will begin a 60-day public comment period that could lead to training certification and a limited access program for industry use of the substance.

“We understand the concerns with the workplace applications and use of this product and that’s why today we’re looking at a training program,” said Dunn.

“What we are trying to do is something quite novel and innovative and would be almost unprecedented: an enforceable federal workplace training program for this chemical.”

Advocacy groups denounced the decision to keep open the door for commercial use of the chemical, arguing that work deaths from the substance have been common.

“The Trump administration will be partly to blame when the next worker is injured or dies as a result of being exposed to this extremely dangerous chemical,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, in a statement.

“Administrator Andrew Wheeler and his EPA should use their authority under the revamped toxics law to protect all Americans from further exposure to methylene chloride. Instead they are catering to the wishes of the chemical industry.”

Wendy Hartley, whose 21-year-old son Kevin died after handling the chemical on the job, called the EPA’s final rule a weakened decision.

“I am deeply disappointed that the EPA has decided to weaken its proposed ban on methylene chloride. Getting this deadly chemical out of consumers’ hands is a step in the right direction - a step that was started by retailers nationwide. Workers who use methylene chloride will now be left unprotected and at risk of health issues or death,” she said in a statement.

The EPA in 2017 issued a proposed ban that would have covered commercial uses as well as consumer sales. Agency officials Friday said they made the decision to only issue a ban on consumer sales after hearing public feedback.

“Notice and comment process is designed to inform EPA’s decisionmaking. Based on comments, we made the decision that we made today to take the ban on consumer use and further reflect very expeditiously on the workplace use,” said Dunn.

A number of retailers and home stores including Walmart and Home Depot have already removed the chemical from their shelves.

The rule will be put forth in the Federal Register on Friday. Retailers will have 240 days from Friday to remove all substances containing methylene chloride from their shelves. Any retailers and online stores who fail to remove the substances from places where consumers shop could be subject to civil or criminal action.