EPA Proposes Methylene Chloride Use Ban
Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a ban on most uses of methylene chloride under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA reports that, since 1980, at least 85 people have died from exposure to methylene chloride, largely including home renovation contracting workers.
Methylene chloride is used in a variety of ways including consumer uses such as aerosol degreasers and brush cleaners for paints and coatings, commercial applications such as adhesives and sealants, and in industrial settings for making other chemicals.
About the Proposal
The EPA reports that methylene chloride has remained widespread, even after banning one consumer use in 2019. Worker deaths occurred in some cases despite being fully trained and equipped with personal protective equipment; others have reportedly experienced severe and long-lasting health impacts, including certain cancers.
According to the release, the latest proposal would protect people from health risks while allowing for some uses to continue only where strict workplace controls could be implemented to minimize exposures to workers.
Methylene chloride is reportedly the second chemical to undergo risk management under the reformed process created by the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This follows the Agency’s proposed actions regarding asbestos last year.
BREAKING: After years of advocacy, @EPA has proposed banning most uses of a deadly chemical used in paint strippers and other products. Methylene Chloride is a highly toxic chemical that companies that is associated with cancer, liver disease, and sudden death. pic.twitter.com/kL5ejTm276— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) April 20, 2023
“The science on methylene chloride is clear, exposure can lead to severe health impacts and even death, a reality for far too many families who have lost loved ones due to acute poisoning,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
“That’s why EPA is taking action, proposing to ban most uses of this chemical and reduce exposures in all other scenarios by implementing more stringent workplace controls to protect worker health. This historic proposed ban demonstrates significant progress in our work to implement new chemical safety protections and take long-overdue actions to better protect public health.”
The EPA notes that its unreasonable risk determination for methylene chloride was driven by risks associated with workers, occupational non-users (workers nearby but not in direct contact with this chemical), consumers and those in close proximity to a consumer use.
Additionally, the EPA identified risks for adverse human health effects, including neurotoxicity, liver effects, and cancer from inhalation and dermal exposures to methylene chloride.
The proposed risk management rule would phase down manufacturing, processing and distribution of methylene chloride for all consumer uses and most industrial and commercial uses, most of which would be fully implemented in 15 months.
For most of the uses of methylene chloride that the EPA is proposing to prohibit, the analysis reportedly found that alternative products with similar costs and efficacy to methylene chloride products are generally available.
However, for the uses that are not included in the ban proposal, the EPA plans to implement a workplace chemical protection program with strict exposure limits to better protect workers. These proposed requirements would allow the continued processing of methylene chloride to produce chemicals that are important in efforts to reduce global warming outlined in the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act.
Similarly, the EPA is also proposing that specific uses of methylene chloride required by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration could continue with strict workplace controls because sufficient reductions in exposure are possible in these environments.
The Agency also consulted with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration while developing this proposed rule and was mindful of existing OSHA requirements in building out the proposed worker protections. The proposed risk-based limits are based on recent data and meet the TSCA requirement to eliminate unreasonable risks.
Employers would reportedly have one year after the finalization of the risk management rule to comply with the worker chemical protection plan and would be required to periodically monitor their workplace to ensure that workers are not being exposed to levels of methylene chloride that would lead to an unreasonable risk.
The EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for methylene chloride for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
Asbestos Ban Proposal
Last year, in April, the EPA released a proposed rule to prohibit ongoing uses of the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States. Noted to be a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals, asbestos can resist heat, fire and electricity.
The proposed rule would specifically ban chrysotile asbestos, also known as “white asbestos,”which is found in products like asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products and other gaskets.
According to the EPA, it was the first-ever risk management rule issued under the new process for evaluating and addressing the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that was enacted in 2016.
According to the American Public Health Association, the deadly carcinogen has been linked to about 40,000 deaths in America each year.
While most consumer products that historically contained chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued, chrysotile asbestos remains the only form known to be currently imported, processed or distributed for use in the U.S. and is used exclusively by the chlor-alkali industry.
In 1989, the EPA blocked most uses of asbestos under the TSCA. However, in 1991, the asbestos industry challenged the regulation, and a federal appeals court overturned the prohibition, significantly weakening the EPA’s authority under TSCA to address risks to human health from asbestos or from any other existing chemicals.
To address these unreasonable risks, the proposed rule would prohibit manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos for six categories of chrysotile asbestos-containing products: asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products and other gaskets.
The proposed prohibition on the manufacture, processing and distribution in commerce also plans to address consumer exposure to chrysotile asbestos.
The prohibitions relating to asbestos diaphragms and sheet gaskets for commercial use are proposed to take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule; the proposed prohibitions relating to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products and other gaskets for commercial use are proposed to take effect 180 days after the effective date of the final rule.
In addition to banning the chrysotile asbestos, the EPA is also proposing targeted disposal and recordkeeping requirements in line with industry standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements and the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).