EPA's Ruling on Methylene Chloride Takes Effect
On Friday (Nov. 22), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that its decision to ban all retail distribution of methylene chloride to consumers for paint and coatings removal officially went into effect.
The regulations to prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of methylene chloride in all paint removers for consumer use comes just months after the agency announced the final regulation on the chemical stripper.
In January 2017, the EPA announced that it was considering a ban on the use of methylene chloride. Reports under the Obama administration determined that the common chemical in paint-strippers placed consumers, workers and bystanders at an unreasonable risk of injury.
In May 2018, the EPA announced that it would be moving forward with that original ruling and stated that, as part of its requirement in the switch from the Lautenberg Chemical Safety to the Toxic Substances Control Act, it was nearing completion of the Problem Formulations portion of a review of 10 specific chemicals, and had made a decision on methylene chloride.
The update at the time said that the EPA:
The previous risk assessment that the announcement referred to was that January 2017 determination, when the agency first proposed prohibiting the consumer and commercial paint-stripping uses for the chemical.
At that time, the EPA said that dangers regarding methylene chloride include death (due to asphyxiation), liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, reproductive toxicity and certain cancers.
“Some of these health effects result from a very short, acute exposure; others follow years of occupational exposure,” the EPA noted.
The original 2017 277-page proposal called for a prohibition on the manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of these chemicals in commerce. The proposal also talked about restricting the sale of small-volume products and requiring companies to notify retailers and others in the supply chain regarding such prohibitions.
Since then, several paint manufacturers and box stores have discontinued the manufacturing or sale of products that contain methylene chloride, and a group of environment and public health advocates had notified the EPA of its intent to sue over its failure to finalize a rule.
Lawsuits and Rulings
Groups including Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and two families of victims who have died from methylene chloride exposure filed a lawsuit against the EPA over its failure to prohibit the use of the chemical on Jan. 14 in the U.S. District Court of Vermont.
The lawsuit was first threatened back in November 2018, when the groups notified the EPA of its intent to sue. The group refers to the TSCA, which requires the EPA to regulate chemicals that present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment.
The regulations to prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of methylene chloride in all paint removers for consumer use comes just months after the agency announced a final regulation on the chemical stripper.
Specifically, the group asked the court to finalize the original January 2017 proposed TSCA Section 6 rule, which completely bans the product.
However, the reports from EPA documents released shortly before the suit was filed showed that the EPA intended to ban the retail use of the chemical—not an industry-wide ban.
Sure enough, in March, the EPA issued the final rule to prohibit the manufacture and importing, processing and distribution of methylene chloride in all paint removers for consumer use. However, sales to contractors and other professionals will remain available.
The decision drew immediate backlash from public health advocates, as employees of professionals who still use methylene chloride remain at risk of death and long-term health effects.
Various manufacturers of the methylene-chloride-based strippers have argued that the products are safe, if those using it have adequate training and are pleased that the EPA is considering establishing a federal training and certificate program.
In October, the EPA released a guide to help processors and distributors comply with the final rule, most notably the requirements for downstream notification and recordkeeping for all manufacturers, processors and distributors of the chemical—including retailers—which went into effect Aug. 27.
And earlier this month, the EPA asked for public input on a draft risk evaluation of more than 70 uses for methylene chloride, including commercial paint and coating removal, consumer adhesives, sealants, degreasers, cleaners and automobile care products.
After having gone into effect last week, it is now unlawful for any person or retailer to sell or distribute paint removal products containing methylene chloride for consumer use, including e-commerce sales.
“EPA’s action keeps paint and coating removers that contain the chemical methylene chloride out of consumers’ hands,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “It is against the law to sell or distribute methylene chloride for paint and coating removal in the retail marketplace—a step that will provide important public health protections for consumers.”
Additionally, the agency is urging all consumers to stop using methylene chloride products that they may already have in their possession.
While the EPA continues to work through the TSCA process to review the chemical’s risks, it is accepting comments on the draft risk evaluation until Dec. 30. The EPA will also host a public peer review meeting of the Agency's Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals from Dec. 3-4.
Methylene chloride is the fifth of the first 10 chemicals to undergo the risk evaluation under the amended TSCA. The evaluation will review the risks associated with the uses of methylene chloride before the agency decides what further actions to take.