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UK Backtracking on Chemical Ban

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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European officials want to lift a ban on professional use of a toxic paint-stripper chemical, less than two years after the European Union largely restricted its use outside of industrial applications.

The UK's Health and Safety Executive proposed an amendment on Nov. 4 to the EU's restrictions on the use of paint strippers containing dichloromethane (DCM, also known as methylene chloride) by professionals, which took full effect on June 6, 2012.

DCM-based paint strippers are effective at removing very durable coatings, including lead paint, quickly and without damaging the substrate. They are widely used in historical preservation, aviation and maritime sectors, and for graffiti removal.

However, the products are also deadly and can quickly kill unwary users in confined, unventilated spaces.

toxic paint stripper chemicals
Photos: CA Department of Public Health

The UK's Health and Safety Executive has proposed an amendment to the EU's ban on DCM-based paint strippers to allow for professional use, under certain conditions. The EU restricted the chemical's use to only industrial installations in 2012. Last year, California issued a Fatality Alert on the paint strippers after a painter who was using DCM products to remove dried paint died in this tank.

The ban—which prevents the supply to and use of the paint strippers by the general public or professionals, but allows their use in industrial installations if certain workplace safety conditions are met—came through REACH, a European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization & Restriction of Chemicals. REACH regulations apply to all EU member states.

HSE's proposed amendment, called a consultation document, contends that DCM-based paint strippers can be used safely by professionals outside of industrial installations, provided users receive proper training and appropriate precautions are taken.

Who Would Benefit

"It is anticipated that a range of professionals will benefit from this derogation, ranging from generalist and specialist painter-decorators, conservators, aircraft and marine ship building and maintenance workers, and workers engaged in graffiti removal," the consultation's evidence assessment document states.

Additionally, allowing the use of the paint strippers may decrease practices that carry other health risks, such as burning or grinding lead paint, the document says.

HSE says that using the paint strippers is necessary to manage exposure to lead paint, facilitate time-critical work and provide costs savings for businesses that use DCM rather than alternatives, which is estimated as a £17.5 million (about $27.8 million USD) saving over a 10-year period.

Under the proposed amendment, those who wish to use DCM paint strippers would have to obtain commercially delivered training and receive a certificate of competence before being allowed to purchase and use the product.

However, a safer alternative to DCM-based paint strippers would be required, unless it is "not reasonably practicable to do so," according to the proposed amendment.

Use of DCM-based paint strippers by consumers would still be banned.

REACH DCM chemical ban

According to HSE, using DCM-based paint strippers can help professionals avoid other dangers, such as exposure to dust from lead paint.

The first phase to ban professional and consumer use started on Dec. 6, 2010, giving formulators a one-year time frame to sell through their supply of DCM-based paint strippers. On June 6, 2012, all sales to anyone outside of industrial installations ceased.

Pure DCM, or mixtures containing it, that are sold and used for purposes other than paint stripping, such as degreasers, are not covered by the ban and continue to be sold.

HSE is accepting comments through Jan. 3, 2014. More information can be found here.

Warnings in the U.S.

In February 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about using the paint stripper after linking at least 13 deaths to excessive exposure to methylene chloride.

The next month, the California Department of Health's Occupational Health Branch issued a Fatality Alert about the chemical after a painter died in a tank while using it.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has linked methylene chloride to more than 50 worker deaths since the mid-1980s, primarily from its use in poorly ventilated spaces, the Alert said.

Earlier this year, DCM was placed on a list of chemicals subject to new draft risk assessments by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who is reviewing the chemical's potential human health and ecological hazards.


Tagged categories: Chemical stripping; Coatings manufacturers; Health and safety; Methylene chloride; Regulations; Toxicity

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/13/2013, 9:09 AM)

News Flash: Don’t use solvents in poorly ventilated, enclosed spaces.

Comment from Car F., (11/13/2013, 11:24 AM)

I suspect that that length of time to remove the coating is the main reason why they are trying to do this regressive and unnecessary measure. I use water based paint strippers regularly with no methylene chloride in its composition. I remove single components, elastomerics, 2 components and also lead-based paint with no problem. The only small inconvenience is that the dwelling time is increased somewhat. Covering the paint stripper with black plastic slow down the evaporation of the active ingredients and helps – in an outdoor situation – to increase the temperature on the substrate…it works great!!!.

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