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EPA to Weigh Fate of Paint Strippers

Thursday, April 2, 2015

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After deaths, warnings and restrictions elsewhere, the United States is taking another step on the road toward limiting the use of two toxic chemicals used in paint removers.

A federal panel is seeking input on whether to restrict or ban n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) and methylene chloride, used to remove paints and coatings.

Methylene chloride (also known as dichloromethane, or DCM) has been implicated in a number of U.S. deaths that triggered two warnings—one federal, one by California—in 2012 about its use.

California Department of Health

Roberto Ramirez Magdariaga, 62, was fatally stricken and a co-worker was critically injured by methylene chloride vapors while cleaning this mixing tank at Vista Paint in 2011. The case triggered a Cal/OSHA Fatality Alert.

The California Fatality Alert followed the death of a painter asphyxiated by vapors while using a methylene chloride product to clean the inside of a tank at Vista Paint Corp. in 2011. A second painter was critically injured in trying to rescue his stricken co-worker.

Nominations Invited

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is inviting nominations from individuals who represent small businesses, small governments and small not-for-profit organizations to provide input to the panel that will explore risk reduction in the chemicals' use.

The panel will also explore a potential rule banning or restricting the chemicals.

In the last year, the EPA has published final risk assessments on both chemicals, identifying health hazards associated with their use. 

paint strippers
USMC / Cpl. Rubin J. Tan

The EPA is seeking input on whether to restrict the use of two chemicals in paint and coating strippers. More than 230,000 U.S. workers are directly exposed to one of the chemicals, methylene chloride, each year. Here, paint remover is applied to aircraft landing gear during an inspection aboard the USS Enterprise.

Now, the EPA wants to determine whether the continued use of NMP and methylene chloride in commercial and consumer paint and coating removers poses an "unreasonable risk" to human health and the environment—and, if so, what requirements may be necessary to address those risks.

Solvent Also Targeted

In a separate announcement this week, the agency invited small-business input for a potential rule banning or restricting the use of trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical used as a spray-on protective coating, a degreaser and a spot-cleaner in dry cleaning.

Like the methylene chloride/NMP panel, the TCE group will focus on the EPA's development of a proposed rule to reduce the risks posed by the chemical in commercial and consumer use.

About 84 percent of TCE is used in a closed system as an intermediate chemical for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals. Most of the rest is used as a solvent for metals degreasing. Some is also used in protective coatings that act as spray fixatives.

Small Business Feedback

The review panels are required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act. The law requires that federal agencies establish a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) panel for rules that may have significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.

The SBAR panel will include federal representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, and the EPA.

The panel will select Small Entity Representatives (SERs) to provide comments on behalf of their company, community, or organization and advise the panel on the potential impact of the proposed rule.

The EPA is seeking self-nominations directly from the small entities that may be subject to the rule. Other representatives, such as trade associations representing potentially regulated small entities, may also serve as SERs.

The SERs will consult with the panel via telephone, webinar, or in person in one or two meetings. They will also have the opportunity to submit written comments.

Self-nominations may be submitted here for NMP and DCM and here for TCE. Nominations for both panels are due by April 10.

Latest Assessment

The EPA chose the chemicals as part of its Work Plan Chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

In a March 2015 risk assessment for NMP, the EPA identified "chronic risks to workers and acute risks to anyone who uses NMP for more than four hours in a single day without wearing appropriate gloves."

methylene chloride
Michigan State University

In Europe, sales of methylene chloride paint strippers have been widely banned.

The assessment particularly noted risks to pregnant women and women of childbearing age who have high exposure to NMP through paint or other coating removal.

Acute and chronic risks to this group can be reduced by wearing specific types of chemical-resistant gloves when NMP is used for less than four hours per day, the EPA found. However, gloves and respirators do not adequately reduce the risks when NMP is used for more than four hours on a single day or repeatedly over a succession of days, the agency said.

"It is a reminder that as we evaluate these risks, it is very clear that our nation's chemical laws are in much need of reform," said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety Pollution and Prevention.

"Completing this assessment will now trigger a process to address these unacceptable risks."

Risks and Warnings

In an August 2014 risk assessment for methylene chloride, the EPA identified health risks associated with the chemical's use.

The agency estimated that "more than 230,000 workers nationwide are directly exposed to DCM from DCM-containing paint strippers."

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.

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

In Europe, sales of methylene chloride paint strippers have been widely banned.


Tagged categories: Chemical stripping; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EPA; Fatalities; Government; Health and safety; Methylene chloride; North America; Paint Removal; Regulations; Toxicity

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/2/2015, 9:36 AM)

The methylene chloride incident which keeps being referenced was primarily a failure to follow proper confined space protocols, not something inherently terrible about methylene chloride. It's 4 years later, nearly a quarter million workers are exposed every year from paint strippers alone - so why don't we have articles about different incidents?

Comment from Dallas Cochran, (4/2/2015, 10:07 AM)

When used properly Methylene Chloride is safe. People who don't follow directions are the ones at risk. Water causes more deaths. Are we going to band water?

Comment from Burt Olhiser, (4/2/2015, 3:51 PM)

Having done air monitoring of worker exposures to these chemicals for many years now I can say with a degree of confidence that these chemicals do not need to be banned. And agree heartily with the sentiments already expressed here.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/6/2015, 9:52 AM)

I'll agree with the overall sentiment's generally folks not using them safely that get into trouble: confined spaces, poor ventilation, improper PPE and such. Maybe if we didn't have these sorts of products at corner retail stores, the average layman or joe handyman wouldn't kill themselves using them improperly (which were some of the other incidents that prompted the CDC to issue its 2012 warning, if memory serves)...leaving only the "pros" to use them. Then, it'd just be a matter of getting the pros to do it right all the time (i.e. using proper confined space protocols, monitoring concentrations, using proper ventilation and PPE, etc.) and not taking shortcuts with them. Tools (be they hand tools, power tools or chemicals like this) are only as good as the person using them.

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