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Lowe’s: Time to spring into action for safer chemicals

Recently CBS News aired the story of a South Carolina man, Drew Wynne, who died because of a deadly chemical in a product purchased from his local Lowe’s. Drew was a 31-year-old entrepreneur, in the prime of his life.

Drew’s story has been picked up in print, radio, and TV outlets around the country, from Web MD to the Daily Mail, Center for Public Integrity, and Fox News in Charleston.

Drew is just one of at least fifty people who have died from using products containing methylene chloride.

The sad truth is that this was preventable.

“He had been stripping paint using a Goof Off paint stripper product that is commonly available at home improvement stores around the country. He bought this product at a Lowe’s store in Charleston, SC. The active ingredient in that product was methylene chloride. The official cause of death from the Coroner’s report was methylene chloride inhalation.”

Hal Wynne, father of Drew Wynne

Lowe’s was warned about toxic paint strippers over one year ago

For five years our campaign has called on leading retailers to use their market power and influence to phase out the sale of products containing toxic chemicals, such as methylene chloride and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) paint strippers sold by retailers like Lowe’s and The Home Depot.

Never has the case for action been stronger.

Both methylene chloride and NMP are dangerous to consumers. Methylene chloride is not only deadly but is also linked to several types of cancers as well as liver, kidney, and reproductive toxicity. NMP has been closely linked to developmental impacts including miscarriages.

Last February, we sent Lowe’s a letter urging them to phase out the sale of these deadly and dangerous products. We sent them a list of paint strippers they sold containing methylene chloride and NMP. One of the products containing methylene chloride that we warned them about was the same one that killed Drew.

That was almost eight months before Drew bought the product from Lowe’s in Charleston last fall.  They had nearly eight months to pull these products from store shelves and transition to safer alternatives.

They had plenty of time to do the right thing.

Sadly, Lowe’s did not heed our call. Today, more than a year after we first wrote to them, they still sell these dangerous products.

“I’m here to tell you that our family suffered an unimaginable loss due to methylene chloride which was present in a popular off-the-shelf DIY paint stripper that killed my son. We later learned that we were not the first family to lose a loved one to these deadly products. Paint strippers containing methylene chloride present a very real and continuing threat to DIY consumers today. … How many more people have to die before retailers like Lowe’s take action?”

Cindy Wynne, mother of Drew Wynne

Lowe’s can transform the marketplace

Methylene chloride has been banned in paint strippers in the European Union (EU) since 2012, and in February 2018 the European chemicals agency proposed adding NMP to the REACH “authorization” list, which could lead to a ban in the EU.

In January 2017 the EPA announced it was proposing to ban or restrict methylene chloride and NMP in paint strippers. This was the first time in a generation EPA was taking substantive action to restrict dangerous chemicals, acting under the new powers it was granted by Congress in 2016. Then in December 2017, the NY Times reported that the EPA was backpedaling on its proposal to ban methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint strippers, under pressure from big chemical corporations.

In response to Drew’s death, Republican members of Congress, Senator Graham, Senator Scott, and Rep. Sanford, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt urging the EPA to move forward on its TSCA restrictions. We applaud their leadership on this issue.

It’s unclear whether the Administration will act anytime soon. With the federal government asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting consumers from toxic chemicals like methylene chloride, retailers like Lowe’s must act. Because of Lowe’s inaction, we have launched a national campaign calling on Lowe’s to ban products containing these toxic chemicals.

Partnering with Drew’s parents, Cindy and Hal Wynne, we launched an online petition calling on Lowe’s to stop selling these products within six months or less. Had EPA’s proposed ban moved forward, companies would have had six months to comply with the federal rule.

More than 50,000 people have already signed the petition over the past few weeks. Our coalition partners at NRDC, Clean Water Action, and organizations across the country have also launched petitions on their websites. Last week, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, Autism Society, ANCOR (American Network of Community Options and Resources), Autism Society, The Arc, and their state chapters sent Lowe’s a letter urging the company to ban methylene chloride and NMP, citing the dangers these chemicals pose to pregnant women and children.

We’ll be bringing our message to Lowe’s customers coast to coast in the weeks and months ahead, leading up to the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

This will be a spring of action. And that’s what we want Lowe’s to do – to spring into action so that no family has to go through what Drew’s family has had to endure. Lowe’s has the power to transform the marketplace away from these dangerous chemicals.

“It’s outrageous that Lowe’s and others are still selling this highly toxic product linked to dozens of fatalities. Because the EPA has failed to protect consumers from this deadly product, it’s critical that retailers like Lowe’s step up to protect their unsuspecting customers. Lowe‘s should take this poison off their shelves today, and EPA should finalize its ban now.”

– Erik Olson, Health Program Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council

Will Lowe’s do the right thing?

Will Lowe’s do the right thing? Or will Lowe’s executives continue to drag their feet while they and big chemical corporations profit from these deadly products?

Lowe’s has already shown substantial leadership on other toxic chemicals.  Three years ago, Lowe’s announced they were banning phthalates in vinyl flooring.  That same year, they took action on neonicotinoid pesticides because of the deadly hazard they pose to bees.

If Lowe’s can take action on chemicals deadly to bees, there’s no reason they should still be selling products containing methylene chloride that can be deadly to their customers.

We hope Lowe’s will ban these harmful chemicals so that no other family has to suffer. After all, DIY shouldn’t spell danger.