The EPA rule bans the toxic chemical methylene chloride, a toxic solvent known to cause liver cancer

The EPA rule bans the toxic chemical methylene chloride, a toxic solvent known to cause liver cancer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it has finalized a ban on consumer use dichloromethanea chemical commonly used as a paint stripper but known to cause liver cancer and other health problems.

The EPA said its action will protect Americans from health risks while allowing certain commercial applications to continue with robust worker protections.

The rule banning methylene chloride is the second landmark risk management rule finalized by President Joe Biden’s administration. 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act. The first was a campaign last month at with asbestosa carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year but is still used in some chlorine bleach, brake pads and other products.

“Exposure to methylene chloride has devastated families in this country for too long, including some who saw loved ones go to work and never return,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. The new rule, he said, “ends unsafe methylene chloride practices and implements the strongest possible worker protections for the few remaining industrial applications, ensuring no one in this country is endangered by this dangerous chemical.”

Methylene chloride, also called dichloromethane, is a colorless liquid that gives off a toxic vapor that has killed at least 88 workers since 1980, the EPA said. Long-term health consequences include a variety of cancers, including liver cancer and lung cancer, and damage to the nervous, immune, and reproductive systems.

The EPA rule would ban all consumer uses but allow certain “critical” uses in military and industrial processing, with worker protections, said Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Methylene chloride will still be allowed to make refrigerants as an alternative to other chemicals that produce greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change, Freedhoff said. It will also be authorized for use in electric vehicle batteries and for critical military functions.

“The applications that we think can safely continue are (all) in advanced industrial environments, and in some cases there are no real substitutes available,” Freedhoff said.

The chemical industry has argued that the EPA overestimates the risks of methylene chloride and that adequate protection has mitigated the health risks.

The American Chemistry Council, the industry’s leading lobbying group, called methylene chloride “an essential compound” used to make many products and goods that Americans rely on every day, including paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing and cleaning and degreasing metal.

An EPA proposal last year could introduce “regulatory uncertainty and confusion” with existing exposure limits set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the group said.

The Chemical Council also said it was concerned that the EPA had not fully evaluated the rule’s impact on the domestic supply chain and could ultimately ban up to half of all end uses subject to regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Although the EPA banned consumer use of methylene chloride in 2019, use of the chemical has remained widespread and continues to pose a significant and sometimes fatal hazard to workers, the agency said. The EPA’s latest risk management rule requires companies to quickly phase out the production, processing and distribution of methylene chloride for all consumer uses and most industrial and commercial applications, including home renovation.

Consumer use will be phased out within a year, and most industrial and commercial uses will be banned within two years.

Liz Hitchcock, director of a safer chemicals program for the advocacy group Toxic-Free Future, praised the new rule, but added: “As pleased as we are to see that the current rule bans all consumer and most commercial applications, we are concerned that its limits in scope will allow continued exposure of too many workers to the dangerous and deadly effects of methylene chloride.”

Consumers should look for labels that indicate a product is free of methylene chloride, according to the Toxic Free Group, which has published a list of paint and varnish strippers and removers sold by major U.S. retailers that do not contain it.

Wendy Hartley, whose son Kevin died of methylene chloride poisoning after refinishing a bathtub at work, called the new rule “a huge step that will protect vulnerable workers.”

Kevin Hartley, 21, of Tennessee, died in 2017. He was an organ donor, Wendy Hartley said, adding that because of the EPA’s actions, “Kevin’s death will continue to save lives.”


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