While deaths from methylene chloride paint strippers continue in the United States, most sales and use of the products are about to be banned in Europe.
The European Union’s crackdown on paint strippers containing dichloromethane (DCM, also known as methylene chloride) is set to take full effect on June 6.
Michigan State University
|Federal health officials have linked methylene chloride paint strippers to 13 U.S. deaths over two years. More such deaths are believed to have gone undetected.|
DCM-based paint strippers are effective at removing very durable coatings, including leaded 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 unventilated spaces.
The EU ban comes through REACH, a European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization & Restriction of Chemicals. REACH took effect June 1, 2007, replacing a number of European Directives and Regulations with a single system. REACH regulations apply to all EU member states.
The new ban makes a distinction between three types of use:
• Industrial use of paint strippers will be allowed only in “industrial installations” (facilities where paint stripping takes place), as long as certain safe working practices are followed.
• Professional use by workers will be banned outside industrial installations, unless individual countries make exceptions for “specifically trained professionals.”
• Consumer use by the general public, and supply to consumers, is banned.
The ban applies to DCM-based mixtures used for stripping paint, varnish or lacquer. Pure DCM (or mixtures containing it) sold and used for other purposes such as degreasing can continue to be sold and used (although not for stripping paint).
The EU ban coincides with a flurry of deaths from the products reported in the U.S.
In California, for example, occupational health officials recently issued a Fatality Alert about inappropriate use of DCM strippers after a worker in a coating manufacturing plant was asphyxiated while using such a product to remove dried coating from inside a tank.
That alert came within weeks of a similar alert by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which traced 13 deaths over two years to the use of 10 different DCM-based strippers in nine states.
All of the CDC cases involved either professionals or homeowners using the product in bathtub refinishing projects. Health officials believe the actual toll from the strippers may be higher, since DCM toxicity can mimic heart attack symptoms.
Under the new EU rules, homeowners would not have been allowed to buy the products, and professionals would not have been able to use them in private homes.
Restrictions and Controls
The new EU rules require that strippers supplied for industrial use be “visibly, legibly and indelibly marked” with the text “Restricted to industrial use and to professionals approved in certain EU Member States — verify where use is allowed.” The burden will be on suppliers to ensure that their products are being supplied for legal uses.
Industrial use will require appropriate ventilation, measures to minimize evaporation from strip tanks, washing tanks after use, training, and use of personal protective equipment and respiratory protection.
CA Department of Health
|California recently issued a Fatality Alert on paint strippers containing methylene chloride after a painter died in this tank using one such product to remove dried paint. The EU ban would still allow the use of the products in such settings.|
Similar requirements have long been in force in the U.S., where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates workplace exposure to methylene chloride. In the case of the California painter, authorities said the tank was not adequately ventilated, the victim was neither trained in confined-space work nor wearing adequate respiratory protection, and there was no attendant at the tank entrance to monitor the worker—all of which are OSHA requirements.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also regulates methylene chloride. The chemical has been part of EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) since 1987, and the EPA updated exposure information for the chemical as recently as November.
The EU’s June 6 deadline is the last step in a process that began Dec. 6, 2010, when manufacturers of DCM-based strippers were banned from putting new batches into the supply chain for use outside industrial installations. Suppliers were allowed to sell from existing stocks to professionals or the public for another year. On June 6, all use of DCM-based strippers outside industrial installations will have to cease.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive is still deliberating how much latitude to grant “professional” users of DCM strippers. Those decisions are not expected before the ban takes effect in June.