Retailers like Atlanta-based Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sherwin Williams plan to remove certain paint removers with methylene chloride as the Environmental Protection Agency weighs a ban on such products.
According to United Kingdom-based risk and regulation site Chemical Watch, the toxic chemical, also known as DCM, is responsible for more than 50 deaths in the United States over several decades.
Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA proposed a rule on products with DCM or another potentially deadly chemical, N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP). But the agency has yet to issue an official ban under the current administration.
Manufacturers of the chemicals initially opposed the ban. In the spring of 2017, NPR reported, the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance urged the EPA to delay the decision, saying it would have a “devastating impact on consumers and small businesses.”
According to NPR, it’s currently legal to sell products with both chemicals, though health and safety experts urge customers to avoid using them.
In recent months, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Sherwin Williams have announced they’re pulling the products from their shelves altogether. A spokesperson for the Home Depot confirmed to NPR that the company “will phase out of paint removal products that contain methylene chloride and NMP by the end of 2018.”
Maryland has also introduced a bill to ban methylene chloride.
“In the absence of a federal regulatory driver, some retailers have started to step up and do voluntary restrictions on methylene chloride in paint strippers,” Gregory Morose, a research manager at the Toxic Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, told NPR. Morose and his colleagues last month announced a new, safer paint stripping chemical they say is just as effective as DCM. Retailers are likely to begin selling the new formulation in the near future, researchers said.
But without an official federal ban, the potentially deadly paint strippers are still available at some stores. Morose urges customers to read the warnings on products they purchase and avoid the two toxic chemicals, plus some others including toluene, xylene and naphthalene.
According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to methylene chloride can cause drowsiness, dizziness, numbness, tingling limbs and nausea. Long-term exposure to even small amounts can increase risk of cancer and severe exposure can cause loss of consciousness and death.
Those most at risk include bathtub refinishers exposed to glazing fumes, workers who use paint stripping products, factory workers involved in metal cleaning and degreasing and employees working in pharmaceutical manufacturing.
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