EPA May Reverse Ban of Deadly Paint-Removing Chemical
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EPA May Reverse Ban of Deadly Paint-Removing Chemical

There Have Been More than 50 Deaths Since 1980 from a Common Ingredient in Household Paint Strippers 

One type of stripping product used for refinishing that contains methylene chloride.
Photo: OSHA and  Iowa Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program

The sweet-smelling solvent methylene chloride, commonly used in paint strippers, can kill in minutes, but our government has left the chemical largely unregulated for decades.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency may be trying to kill or water down a proposed regulation published on the last full day of the administration of former President Barack Obama that would ban most uses of the chemical in paint strippers.

“In our view, a ban on methylene chloride in paint stripping products is long overdue, said Lindsay McCormick of the Environmental Defense Fund. “It is literally a matter of life and death.”

Deaths from the chemical have been documented since 1947 when four men were overcome, and one died. The solvent, which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, can cause heart attacks and turns into carbon monoxide in the body.

The solvent can only be used safely with a respirator and special gloves and is especially dangerous in confined spaces such as bathrooms or basements.

Since 1980, more than 50 accidental deaths in the United States have been linked to methylene chloride, including possibly the death in April of Kevin Hartley, 21, of Ashland City, Tenn., who was using chemicals to help strip old finish from bathtubs.

ACTION BOX / What you can do about it

Tell EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt your thoughts via his Facebook and Twitter sites. His email is Pruitt.scott@Epa.gov

His phone number is 202-564-4700.

Write him at:

EPA Headquarters
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Mail Code: 1101A
Washington, DC 20460

Contact your representative and senators.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which supports stronger regulations on methylene chloride, can be reached at 800-684-3322 or at 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20009.

The European Union prohibited methylene chloride paint strippers from general use in 2011.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission denied a 1985 petition to ban the chemical in household products and rejected requests by California and Washington state officials in 2012 to consider stiffer regulation. The commission voted June 2 to include stronger language on household products containing the solvent.

The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance has pushed back against tougher regulation, calling it overreach. The organization spent $60,00 on federal lobbying in 2016 and $10,000 so far this year.

Attorney W. Caffey Norman called the proposed EPA ban a “blatant and raw power grab.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has previously sided with industry over the safety of people in our country. He overruled the agency’s own scientists to keep the pesticide chlorpyrifos on the market despite evidence that it lowers children’s IQs

Methylene chloride is in paint removers on home improvement store shelves of companies such as Ace Hardware, Home Depot and Lowe’s.  An estimated 1.3 million consumers use products with methylene chloride every year, and more than 30,000 people use them at work.

The fatality numbers linked to the solvent are likely an undercount because federal investigations frequently miss people who are self-employed.

“Everybody knows it’s a bad chemical, and yet nobody does anything,” said Katy Wolf, director of Institute for Research and Technical Assistance in California.

Featured photo image by Jamie Smith Hopkins / The Center for Public Integrity

June 13, 2017