Energy & Environment

Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified


A chemical found in paint strippers is associated with more deaths than previously thought, according to research published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers consulted studies and government databases for deaths associated with the chemical methylene chloride from 1980 to 2018. They further analyzed a combination of inspection reports, medical records and autopsy reports from August 2018 to August 2020.

“Results of this case series demonstrated that despite regulations to address the toxic effects of methylene chloride use for consumers and workers, there are continuing fatalities in the US, particularly in occupational settings,” researchers wrote. “Prevention of fatalities associated with methylene chloride exposure should emphasize the use of safer substitutes, rather than hazard warnings or reliance on personal protective equipment.”

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged the compound was tied to 53 deaths between 1980 and 2018, the study indicated 85 deaths tied to it during the same time frame. Of those, 87 percent occurred in workplaces.

“The EPA’s 2020 evaluation of methylene chloride found that all consumer uses and most commercial uses variously exceeded health benchmarks of concern for acute, chronic, and cancer risks. The Toxic Substances Control Act requires that the EPA take action to effectively mitigate these risks,” the researchers concluded. “According to the [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] NIOSH hierarchy of controls, elimination is the most effective option to remove the hazards of methylene chloride.”

The EPA banned the commercial sale of the compound in 2019 after years of pressure from consumer safety advocates, but stopped short of a full ban.

“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,” Alexandra Dunn, EPA assistant administrator for chemical safety, said at the time.

Congressional Democrats have previously scrutinized then-President Trump’s nominee for head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nancy Beck, over the timing of the ban.

“It is unacceptable that it took two years and a lawsuit for you to finalize this regulation and you still managed to put out a less protective rule which allows the use of methylene chloride in paint strippers for commercial use by workers,” then-Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said last year.

Tags Chemical substances Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency Hazardous air pollutants paint stripper Tom Udall
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