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Consumer sales of deadly paint strippers banned but Americans still at risk

Consumers and workers still exposed to methylene chloride from many other uses

Tomorrow, EPA’s ban on consumer sales of paint strippers with the deadly chemical methylene chloride goes into effect. Last March, when EPA finalized this rule, we called it a partial victory because the agency did not ban sales of such paint strippers for commercial uses, leaving workers exposed to these deadly products. EPA recently estimated that more than 230,000 workers may be directly exposed to methylene chloride from paint strippers containing the chemical.

Methylene chloride is one of the first ten chemicals that EPA is evaluating under the 2016 reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA). Earlier this month, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families was joined by 18 state, local, and national organizations in sending a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler sounding the alarm over EPA’s recently released draft risk evaluation for the chemical. The draft evaluation identifies 15 additional consumer products that contain methylene chloride, presenting acute risks similar in nature and magnitude to the paint remover risks on which EPA based its consumer use ban.

EPA’s draft evaluation makes clear that consumers and workers face serious and imminent risks of death and incapacitating neurotoxic effects from short-term exposure to methylene chloride. The document estimates that as many as 8.4 million workers could be exposed to methylene chloride on the job.

For both consumers and workers, the dangers of acute exposure to methylene chloride are far too great to wait for several years to take action to protect the public while EPA finalizes the risk evaluation and completes its rulemaking. EPA should:

  • Immediately warn the public of these risks;
  • Require manufacturers to protect workers and consumers from harm; and
  • Immediately finalize its proposed ban on commercial use of methylene chloride-containing paint removers.

EPA’s draft risk evaluation concludes that:

“[r]isks from acute exposures include central nervous system risks such as central nervous system depression and a decrease in peripheral vision, each of which can lead to workplace accidents and which are precursors to more severe central nervous system effects such as incapacitation, loss of consciousness, and death.”

According to a recent University of California San Francisco analysis, 83 deaths have been linked to acute exposure to methylene chloride. This is very likely the tip of the iceberg — in its 2017 proposed rule, EPA said that numerous additional deaths were probably either unreported or erroneously attributed to other causes.

EPA should protect all Americans from this chemical immediately.