UK Backtracking on Chemical Ban


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.

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; Europe; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Methylene chloride; Regulations; Toxicity

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