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U.S. Reviews Paint Stripper Chemicals

Thursday, January 10, 2013

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Largely banned in Europe and linked to multiple deaths in the U.S., toxic paint-stripper chemicals are finally getting a serious look from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Methylene chloride, or dichloromethane (DCM), and n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint stripper products top a list of five chemicals that are the subject of new draft risk assessments by the EPA.

The other chemicals include those used in spray-on protective coatings and halogenated flame retardants.

The five are among 83 chemicals that EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics announced last year that it would study as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) work plan. EPA is reviewing the chemicals' potential human health and ecological hazards.

The draft assessments were released Monday (Jan. 7) for public comment and review. They have not yet been published in the Federal Register.

hazardous chemicals

When used as paint strippers, methylene chloride and n-methylpyrrolidone pose potential concern for human health, according to the EPA's preliminary analysis.

Stripper, Coating Exposures

The assessments address the following chemicals and uses:

The draft risk assessments for DCM, NMP, and TCE indicate "a potential concern for human health" under the specific exposure scenarios, according to the EPA.

For example, EPA believes DCM and NMP pose inhalation and dermal exposure concerns for workers, consumers and bystanders when they are used in paint stripping processes, according to a fact sheet released by the agency.

EPA also noted potential risks of concern when TCE is used as a degreaser or a "clear protective coating spray" in arts and crafts. (The assessments for ATO and HHCB indicated low concern for ecological health, and previous studies have found minimal health risks.)

Warnings, Accidental Deaths

The dangers of methylene chloride paint strippers have been gaining notoriety in recent years. On Feb. 24, 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about the use of the products after linking them to more than a dozen accidental deaths.

CDC had previously flagged methylene chloride as a potentially fatal occupational hazard, and the 2012 alert noted that exposure to the chemical without proper ventilation and protective equipment could kill almost instantly.

CA paint manufacturing tank
CA Department of Health

In March 2012, California health officials issued an alert about the dangers of DCM paint strippers after a paint manufacturing worker perished in this tank while working with such products.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has had methylene chloride standards in place since 1997.

The CDC's warning followed Worker Fatality Alert issued by California occupational safety officials after a painter died while cleaning a tank with a DCM paint stripper.

In March, the European Union announced that it would ban most sales and tighten the use of methylene chloride paint strippers as of June 6. The new EU rules ban sales of DCM paint strippers to the public and restrict use of the products to industrial installations.

Next Steps

After gathering public comment on the new draft assessments, EPA plans to seek independent, scientific peer review of the assessments before beginning to finalize them in the fall.

Methylene Chloride
Michigan State University

Methylene chloride is commonly used in paint strippers. The products can kill instantly if used in unventilated areas.

The draft assessments "highlight the agency’s ongoing commitment to ensure the safety of chemicals we encounter in our daily lives,” said James J. Jones, acting assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“The public and scientific peer review will ensure use of the best science to evaluate any impacts of these substances on people’s health and the environment.”

Meanwhile, the EPA recommends that users of the chemicals follow "product label directions and take precautions that can reduce exposures, such as using the product outside or in an extremely well-ventilated area and wearing protective equipment to reduce exposure."

If EPA's final risk assessement concludes that there is a potential for concern, the agency said it would take action as appropriate to address possible risks.

Chemical Industry Reacts

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council commended EPA for seeking public comment on the draft assessments before conducting peer reviews.

"Seeking stakeholder input is an important and necessary step toward achieving effective, transparent and credible risk assessments," said ACC, a trade association that represents chemical manufacturers.
"We intend to review the work plan chemical assessments in greater detail in the coming days and look forward to submitting our comments to EPA to ensure the final assessments are based on a scientifically sound analysis of all relevant data and information, and meet the highest standards of scientific inquiry."


Tagged categories: American Chemistry Council; Chemical stripping; Coating chemistry; Construction chemicals; EPA; Methylene chloride; Regulations; Toxicity

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