EPA poised to ban methylene chloride in paint strippers
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May 17, 2018
EPA poised to ban methylene chloride in paint strippers

In an announcement, the EPA appears to indicate that it will finalize an Obama-era proposal that would ban methylene chloride in all consumer and most commercial paint- and coating-removal products. The action surprised some observers who noted that the current EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt has shown little inclination to issue regulations that restrict industrial activity. However, calls to follow through on the Agency’s January 2017 proposed ban have come from both sides of the political aisle. In particular, in March 2018, three Republican members of Congress from South Carolina asked Pruitt to follow through with the proposal following the death of Drew Wynne, a Charleston businessman who died after working with an off-the-shelf paint stripper containing methylene chloride.

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Deadly effects, short- and long-term

Methylene chloride, also called dichloromethane, is a volatile chemical that is produced and imported into the United States, with use estimated at over 260 million pounds per year.

“For methylene chloride, the health impacts of its use in paint and coating removal include death (due to asphyxiation), liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, reproductive toxicity, specific cognitive impacts, and cancers such as brain cancer, liver cancer, certain lung cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma,” the EPA wrote in its proposal. “Some of these effects result from a very short, acute exposure; others follow years of occupational exposure.”

Agency hesitated

Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as amended by the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, provides the EPA with the authority to prohibit or limit the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of a chemical if the Agency finds that the chemical presents an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Furthermore, the amendments allow the EPA to publish proposed and final rules consistent with risk assessments completed before passage of the amendments. In 2014, the EPA completed its risk assessment of methylene chloride, and the chemical was listed in the TSCA work plan.

But in its Fall 2017 Regulatory Agency, the Trump EPA appeared to downgrade the methylene chloride proposal to a “long-term action” as part of the president’s plan to ease up on the promulgation of federal regulations in general. The announced delay prompted the letter from the Republicans.

Duty to protect the public

“The threat posed by this chemical is clear and undeniable, as determined by EPA just last year,” the lawmakers wrote. “EPA has a duty to protect the American public from hazards such as this, and by finding that the proposed rule is compliant with TSCA Section 6 requirements, it can prevent future deaths and injuries. No family, nor person should ever have to endure the loss suffered by the Wynne family and the Charleston community. We urge you to swiftly determine the rule’s compliance with TSCA Section 6 and ensure the protection of our nation’s consumers.”

According to the letter, over the past 35 years, more than 50 deaths have occurred due to acute exposure to methylene chloride.

OMB to review

Based on previous work, including the assessments conducted by the Obama EPA, the Agency now states that it intends to finalize the January 2017 methylene chloride rulemaking; that it will not reevaluate the paint stripping uses of methylene chloride and is relying on its previous risk assessments; and that it is “working to send the finalized rulemaking to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) shortly.”

EPA’s announcement is here.

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