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Lawsuit Coming to EPA Over Paint-Stripper Ban

Friday, November 2, 2018

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Earlier this week, a group of workers and environment and public health advocates notified the Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to sue the agency over its failure to finalize a ban on the use of methylene chloride in paint strippers.

The group, which is also joined by the mothers of two men who recently died from methylene chloride exposure, says that the EPA has violated its public commitments and legal obligations to finalize the ban.

Aleksandr Volunkov

Earlier this week, a group of workers and environment and public health advocates notified the Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to sue the agency over its failure to finalize a ban on the use of methylene chloride in paint strippers.

“One life is one too many to have been lost to this deadly chemical,” said Wendy Hartley, whose 21-year-old son died from methylene chloride exposure in April of last year, in an emailed press release.

“We have lost loved ones due to the chemical industry's and the EPA's inaction to ban methylene chloride. Retailers have stepped up to save lives. How many more people will the EPA allow to die before they ban methylene chloride?”

What Happened

The group’s action refers to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires the EPA to regulate chemicals that present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. In January 2017, the Obama administration determined that methylene chloride places consumers, workers and bystanders at an unreasonable risk of injury and proposed to ban its use in paint strippers.

In May 2018, the EPA promised to finalize that ban, but it has taken no action since then. At the time, the EPA said that, as part of its requirement in the switch from the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the TSCA, it was nearing completion of the Problem Formulations portion of a review of 10 specific chemicals, and has made a decision on methylene chloride.

The update said that the EPA:

  • intended to finalize the methylene chloride rulemaking;
  • is not re-evaluating the paint stripping uses of methylene chloride and is relying on its previous risk assessments; and
  • is working to send the finalized rulemaking to the White House Office of Management and Budget shortly.

The previous risk assessment that the announcement referred to was the January 2017 determination, when the agency proposed prohibiting the consumer and commercial paint-stripping uses for the chemical.

USMC / Cpl. Rubin J. Tan

In May 2018, the EPA promised to finalize that ban, but it has taken no action since then. At the time, the EPA said that, as part of its requirement in the switch from the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the TSCA, it was nearing completion of the Problem Formulations portion of a review of 10 specific chemicals, and has made a decision on methylene chloride.

At that time, the EPA said that dangers with regard to 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 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.

“EPA’s inaction on this admittedly deadly chemical is unsafe and unlawful.  The law does not allow [the] EPA to drag its feet while lives hang in the balance,” said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, counsel for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, a party in the forthcoming lawsuit.

In the absence of action from the EPA, several paint manufacturers and box stores have discontinued the manufacturing or sale of products that contain methylene chloride.

   

Tagged categories: Chemical stripping; EPA; Lawsuits; Methylene chloride

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