Industrial users and manufacturers of methylene chloride, a chemical used in paint strippers and other industrial products, are urging the U.S. EPA to restrict or regulate its use rather than declare a total ban. The comments were solicited during the discussions in a workshop in Boston on September 12.
Methylene chloride or Dichloromethane (DCM) is found in many industrial products but EPA estimates that about 25% of methylene chloride in the United States is used for coating and paint stripping products.
EPA held the workshop in partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to understand “the use of the paint remover methylene chloride in furniture refinishing.” EPA will use the information gathered to determine future regulation rules. However, some workshop participants directed the discussions to the use of methylene chloride in paint removers.
In January, EPA released a proposed rule that would prohibit the use of all consumer and most commercial paint strippers with methylene chloride as the active component. The ruling was based on section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The September 12 workshop was held because the proposed rule in January did not include the use of methylene chloride in furniture refinishing products. The exclusion of furniture refinishing products was influenced by SBA’s Office of Advocacy, a branch of the agency which looks after the welfare of small businesses related to regulatory issues.
Adequate Precautions As Alternative To Banning Chemicals
During the discussions, SBA's Office of Advocacy’s chief counsel David Rostker asked the speakers for a way to provide safe practices guidance "that may be alternatives to taking chemicals off the market." He suggested that they should discuss better warnings and better use of protective gear instead of finding evidence of the hazards from exposure to the chemical.
Not everyone agreed, however. Lindsay Janis, a Project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund's health program argued that methylene chloride should be "totally banned" because EPA's own analysis demonstrates that concentration limits or venting controls will not address the unreasonable risk. Janis added that studies show there are “suitable substitutes” for methylene chloride.
Patrick Mitchell, the president The Strip Joint, a refinishing company in California, did not agree. He said that "all the products marketed as replacements do not work whatsoever."
Benny Bixenman, the owner of Benco Sales, Inc, a manufacturer of commercial strippers argued that without methylene chloride, furniture stripping would be unprofitable. So far, the leading alternatives are dangerously flammable. He added that the situation "would cause many businesses to close."
Other refinishers supported Mr. Mitchell's view that "we need to take methylene chloride off retail shelves and let it be sold to licensed businesses only."
Dennis Shireman, chemical manufacturer WM Barr’s vice-president for research and development argued that the deadly consequences of using methylene chloride in confined spaces like the bathtubs “can be addressed by better labeling."
Section 6 Revisited
TSCA section 6, which was amended in 2016, gives EPA the power to assess and regulate a chemical that can cause unreasonable risk to the environment or to human health. Methylene chloride has been identified as one of the ten chemicals earmarked for an assessment based on section 6 of the old TSCA.
EPA announced that it will accept public comments related to the use of methylene chloride in furniture refinishing through November 12.
In addition to the assessment under section 6 of the old TSCA, methylene chloride is one of the first ten substances for mandatory risk assessment based on the new TSCA. The evaluation includes the use the use of methylene chloride in furniture refinishing.