EPA bans deadly chemical used in paint strippers — but provides a loophole for commercial operatorsMarch 15, 2019
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday restricted the use of a toxic chemical used in paint and coating strippers that has been linked to dozens of accidental deaths. But the agency stopped short of the total ban proposed by the Obama administration and pushed by some health groups, instead allowing commercial operators to keep using the chemical so long as they are trained.
Alexandra Dunn, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the agency has determined that methylene chloride — a controversial product that major home-improvement retailers, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, already have pulled from their shelves — presents “an unreasonable risk of injury.”
“We answered the call from many affected families, to ensure that no other family experiences the death of someone close to them due to this chemical,” Dunn told reporters in a conference call.
The agency will solicit comments over the next 60 days on whether to impose new federal training requirements on commercial operators, Dunn said, to determine if it needs to limit access under those circumstances. That move drew immediate fire from public-health advocates and the family members of those who died after being exposed to its fumes.
Wendy Hartley, whose 21 year-old son Kevin died two years ago died while refinishing a bathtub even after being trained in how to apply the paint stripper, said the administration’s new rules fall short.
“I am deeply disappointed that the EPA has decided to weaken its proposed ban on methylene chloride,” Hartley said in a statement. “Getting this deadly chemical out of consumers’ hands is a step in the right direction — a step that was started by retailers nationwide. Workers who use methylene chloride will now be left unprotected and at risk of health issues or death. I will continue my fight until the EPA does its job.”
Hartley, who personally appealed last May to then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to ban the chemical, has now joined with the advocacy groups Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Vermont Public Interest Research Group in suing EPA in the U.S. District Court in Vermont.
However, Bryan Wynne — whose brother Drew died in October 2017 after applying paint stripper to the floor of his start-up coffee company in North Charleston, S.C., — in a phone interview described the move as a key step given the current anti-regulatory climate in Washington.
“You take a win when you can get a win. And in this…