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US EPA moves to finalise methylene chloride paint stripper rule

Products - Paint remover © phanuwatnandee -

The US EPA has submitted a final rule regulating methylene chloride paint strippers to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval.

The move initiates the standard interagency review process that must take place before a significant rule can be finalised, and brings the agency a step closer to banning or restricting a substance under section 6 of TSCA for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The EPA issued a proposal to ban paint strippers containing methylene chloride – and restrict or ban products containing the replacement solvent n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) – in early 2017.

But industry groups pushed back on the rule. Many asked the agency instead to consider the risk posed by the products as part of the two solvents’ ongoing risk evaluations under the reformed TSCA.

And under the Trump administration, the rulemaking – as well as two others addressing several uses of trichloroethylene (TCE) – appeared to be put on hold.

Consumer advocacy groups, however, began to increase pressure on the EPA to act on methylene chloride, amid reports of consumer deaths from product use.

After a meeting with campaigners, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last May that the agency would act to finalise the rule "shortly". But little movement was seen in the following months, and in November, a coalition of NGOs threatened to sue if the ban was not finalised within 60 days.

The final rule was received at OMB on 21 December 2018, in the final days before the EPA shutdown began due to lack of funding.

Alongside the section 6 rule, the EPA also submitted a proposal to develop a training, certification and limited access programme for methylene chloride used in commercial paint and coating removal. This is listed as being in the 'prerule' stage.

Campaigner pressure

Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), said her group is pleased that the agency is moving to finalise the rule. However, she added the NGO is "disappointed by indications that the measure will not protect thousands of workers whose lives and health are in danger as they come into contact with methylene chloride on the job".

According to SCHF, at least four people have died from exposure to these products since the proposal was issued two years ago, adding to some 60 deaths that have been linked to their use in the US since 1980.

Despite EPA action on the products being delayed, campaigners have successfully pressed retailers to halt sales. Eleven companies have made such commitments, including Lowe’s, Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, meanwhile, pointed to the EPA’s inaction as one of the drivers behind its decision to name paint removers containing methylene chloride a priority product under its Safer Consumer Products (SCP) programme.

The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA), however, is among industry groups that have stood by the use of the products, saying that they are "the best products for efficient and effective paint removal".

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