A survey of five major US retailers found that a majority of their stores were still selling methylene chloride or NMP paint strippers, despite the companies’ commitments to remove those products from shelves by the end of 2018.
Major home improvement and paint retailers Lowe’s, Sherwin-Williams, the Home Depot, Kelly-Moore and Autozone made commitments to phase out the sale of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) on the back of overwhelming evidence of the substances’ health hazards. These were among at least ten retailers that planned to ban the sale of the products.
However, in the first few weeks of 2019, environment and health advocates at Safer Chemicals Healthy Families visited 42 store locations in order to monitor compliance with the agreements. They found that 62% of the stores they visited were still selling either methylene chloride or NMP paint stripper products.
The stores had varying levels of non-compliance with their commitments:
- none of the 12 Lowe’s stores surveyed carried products with methylene chloride, but four carried one NMP paint stripper; the company pledged to remove those products when contacted by SCHF;
- none of the seven Sherwin-Williams stores carried NMP-based products, but two stores carried methylene chloride products; a spokesperson for the retailer told SCHF that every store would be re-checked on 18 January, though the company did not respond to a request for confirmation that those checks had been carried out;
- none of the three Kelly-Moore stores visited were still selling paint strippers containing methylene chloride, but one was found to contain NMP; the company’s spokesperson told SCHF that they will resend a memo to all Kelly-Moore’s stores reminding them of the company’s commitment to ban the products;
- all 11 of the Home Depot stores were still selling methylene chloride-based paint strippers and five of 11 also sold NMP-based products; and
- eight of nine AutoZone stores surveyed had methylene chloride products on their shelves, but none had NMP-based paint strippers.
Methylene chloride paint strippers in particular have come under fire from public health advocates because dozens of people have died as a result of using the products. Family members of the victims have joined SCHF and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group to sue the EPA for failure to enact a considered ban on the substance.
The agency issued the original proposal to ban or restrict the two solvents from paint removal applications in early 2017. According to SCHF, at least four people have died from exposure to methylene chloride since then.
Chemical Watch approached all five retailers for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
SCHF plans to similarly monitor other retailers that have made the commitment, such as Walmart. And it praises those who have stepped up for taking actions that are "likely saving lives" and put pressure on regulators to make these market interventions unnecessary.
"This new in-store research underscores why we need federal action and enforcement by the EPA, to ensure that no toxic paint strippers remain on store shelves," said SCHF in a statement.
Late last month, the EPA submitted for interagency review a final TSCA section 6 rule to regulate methylene chloride paint strippers. But the rule will not address NMP products, and there are signals it will exclude occupational uses.