US EPA Prohibits Methylene Chloride in Consumer Paint Strippers
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued its final rule to ban the use of methylene chloride in paint strippers for consumer use. It is the agency’s first regulation over a substance under section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 30 years.
The ban applies to the importation, manufacturing, processing and distribution of the paint stripping products. The ban on retail sales, including e-commerce takes effect 180 days of the rule’s effective date which gives enough time for retailers and other distributors to consumers to comply with the agency’s ban.
The ruling, however, was only finalized after more than two years since the initial proposal to ban the solvent near the end of the Obama administration.
The final rule also does not fully address the issues in the proposal because it had no decision on N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) an alternative solvent and the ban did not include methylene chloride in strippers for commercial uses.
According to medical experts, NMP can cause birth defects and reproductive problems.
Instead, the agency is requesting comments to inform “a future rulemaking” that also includes the training, certification, and limited access programme for commercial uses of strippers with methylene chloride.
Methylene chloride toxicity
An investigation by a team that included Dr. Ken Rosenman, Michigan State University ‘s head of the Division of Occupational Medicine linked the deaths of at least 13 workers nationwide, to their exposure to paint stripper with methylene chloride. The chemical can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled as fumes.
According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a national environmental health organization, at least 64 people since 1980 have died from severe exposure to methylene chloride.
After the 2016 amendments to the law, methylene chloride – along with NMP was named by EPA as part of the first ten chemicals they will subject to final risk evaluation which is due by year end. If any substance is determined to pose an unreasonable risk, the agency is required to immediately begin the rulemaking process.
Rosenman said that NMP does not kill quickly, but it can probably cause birth defects and major reproductive complications.
Inadequate Final Rule
Consumer advocacy groups quickly denounced the rule on methylene chloride as inadequate for its failure to address commercial exposures to the chemical.
Director Liz Hitchcock, of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, finds it “absolutely unacceptable” that EPA’s final rule does not protect the lives and health of thousands of workers who are exposed to the solvent.
Melanie Benesh, Environmental Working Group’s legislative attorney said that the Trump administration will be partly to blame for the next worker’s death or injury resulting from exposure to the “extremely dangerous chemical.”
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) argued that the agency cannot prevent consumers from getting the banned product without a commercial ban.
Methylene chloride manufacturers have argued that the alternatives to methylene chloride carry other hazards and are less effective.
The American Chemistry Council supports the EPA’s decision to ban consumer sales and get suggestions for a future programme for the chemical’s workplace uses.
Section 6 rulemaking
Prior to the amendment of the TSCA law in 2016, section 6 of the law – which specifies the risk evaluation of existing chemicals and the implementation of restrictions or bans to address the risks they pose, was constrained by a court’s decision that overturned the asbestos ban in 1989.
Three section 6 rules were proposed towards the end of the Obama administration – two on the uses of the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) and the other one on NMP and methylene chloride in paint strippers. These three proposals were seen as an early test of the effectiveness of the amended law.
However, several NGOs see the latest rulings as further cause for concern.
Richard Denison, EDF senior scientist said that the first restriction on a chemical under the newly strengthened TSCA is a weaker version of the proposed ban. He added that the current administration delayed for two years its action on the far more health-protective proposed ban which it then stripped out of any protections for workers who are most at risk from exposure to methylene chloride in strippers for commercial use.
Natural Resources Defense Council’s senior Attorney Daniel Rosenberg added that the agency is “writing loopholes” into its rulings to benefit the chemical industry.