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EPA proposes ban on many uses of deadly solvent

The rule would prohibit dozens of widespread methylene chloride uses, restrict others

Washington, D.C. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week proposed banning all consumer and most commercial and industrial uses of the deadly chemical methylene chloride, which is widely used in paint strippers, degreasers, and various industrial processes. Dozens of people have died from acute exposures to methylene chloride, and chronic exposures are associated with cancer, liver disease, and other severe harms.

“EPA has taken an important step closer to protecting people from a toxic solvent that should have been banned years ago. Any proposed exemptions from use restrictions need to be time-limited and consistent with the law’s requirements,” said Daniel Rosenberg, Director of Federal Toxics Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “EPA’s final rule must ensure that workers, consumers, and all fenceline communities are protected from the dangers of methylene chloride as the law requires.”

This is the second rule based on a risk evaluation conducted under the 2016 amendments to the Toxic

Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the first for a chemical that remains in widespread production in the United States. EPA has known methylene chloride’s severe risks for decades, and its 2020 risk evaluation found that the chemical presents unreasonable risks to human health and the environment. The proposed rule would ban dozens of uses of methylene chloride and impose new workplace controls for remaining uses. “Methylene chloride has claimed too many lives and caused too much harm to remain on the market. EPA is right to phase out many of that chemical’s most dangerous uses,” said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, senior attorney with Earthjustice. “This rule will save lives and is a tribute to the workers, families, and other advocates who have fought for years to protect people from this deadly chemical. But the rule’s exclusions and exemptions would allow uses of methylene chloride to continue for a decade or more, leaving workers, service members, and communities at risk. EPA must narrow those exemptions in its final rule, revisit them on a regular basis, and ensure they are as short-lived as possible.”

“Methylene chloride is a deadly chemical and Latino workers, many of who speak English as a second language, face the greatest exposure risks,” said Labor Council for Latin American Advancement Deputy Director Karla Pineda. “No one should have to compromise their health to make a living. We urge EPA to finalize the strongest risk management rule because everyone deserves a safe work environment.” 

“The rule will protect millions of workers, consumers, and residents of fenceline communities from severe health risks,” said New Jersey Work Environment Council Executive Director Debra Coyle. “We support EPA’s efforts to replace this lethal chemical with safer alternatives, and we call on EPA to require the strongest protections for anyone who remains exposed.”  

In January 2017, EPA proposed banning commercial and consumer uses of methylene chloride paint strippers but failed to take further action until the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), represented by Earthjustice; the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and other organizations and impacted families filed an unreasonable delay lawsuit. After the Trump administration carved commercial uses of methylene chloride paint strippers out of that ban, those parties returned to court to challenge that exemption. EPA’s latest proposal would ban nearly all commercial uses of methylene chloride paint strippers.

In June 2020, the Trump administration finalized a TSCA risk evaluation that understated methylene chloride’s harms and found that several conditions of use did not present an unreasonable risk. Earthjustice – on behalf of the Sierra Club, New Jersey Work Environment Council, and, with NRDC, Neighbors for Environmental Justice – joined NRDC and United Steelworkers in challenging those findings. That lawsuit resulted in EPA’s revised determination that methylene chloride, as a whole chemical, presents an unreasonable risk.

According to EPA, up to eight million workers and countless consumers and fenceline community residents are exposed to methylene chloride each year. Industrial facilities emit nearly three million pounds of methylene chloride into the air each year, and the chemical in widely used consumer products, including cleaners for automotive parts, adhesives, adhesive removers, and more. More than 80 people have died after handling methylene chloride paint strippers, most of whom were exposed on the job. “Today’s proposal shows EPA is getting to the finish line, restricting the ongoing use of this deadly chemical,” said Sierra Club Senior Toxics Policy Advisor Sonya Lunder. “For too long workers have been exposed to unhealthy levels of this harmful chemical. EPA should act quickly to get methylene chloride off the market, especially when safer materials and processes are widely available.” 


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