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Chemical Regulation

Methylene chloride restrictions sit during US government shutdown

Lapse in EPA funding delays agency from banning toxic chemical in household paint strippers

by Britt Erickson
January 14, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 2

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Credit: Britt Erickson/C&EN
It used to be easy for consumers to purchase methylene chloride-based paint strippers, shown here in Home Depot in May 2018. Not anymore. Many retailers, including Home Depot, voluntarily stopped selling such products this year.

The US Environmental Protection Agency sent two rules related to methylene chloride in paint strippers to the White House for approval on Dec. 21. The agency has yet to reveal the content of those rules, but environmental groups speculate that one of them would ban methylene chloride in paint strippers sold to consumers. The other rule, listed as a prerule, proposes to establish a training, certification, and limited-access program for workers who use methylene chloride in paint and coating removal.

The EPA proposed to ban methylene chloride in consumer and commercial paint strippers during the final days of the Obama administration. The move followed reports of men who died while using such products without proper ventilation. Now, the agency appears to have limited that rule to include only consumer uses, according to environmental groups. The EPA addresses commercial uses of methylene chloride–based paint strippers in a separate proposed rule that could take several years to finalize, they say. The EPA cannot publish either rule until the partial government shutdown ends.

“For the families around the country who have lost loved ones to methylene chloride exposure, this is at best a half-step forward in getting these deadly paint strippers off the market,” Lindsay McCormick, project manager at the environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Rather than waiting for EPA to act, most major retailers have already removed or pledged to remove these products from their shelves. But that doesn’t protect most workers, and now it looks like EPA won’t either.”

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