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EPA May Allow Furniture Workers to Keep Using Paint Stripper

Oct. 17, 2018, 7:59 PM

The EPA is signaling that commercial furniture refinishers may continue using a paint-stripping chemical called methylene chloride, reversing previous plans to significantly restrict both consumer and commercial uses.

The solvent is one of the top 10 chemicals the agency is re-examining under a new chemicals law and major companies like Lowe’s, Home Depot Inc., the Sherwin-Williams Co., and Walmart Inc. have pledged to remove products containing the chemical by the end of the year.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s fall regulatory agenda said the scope of the final methylene chloride regulation (RIN:2070-AK07) it’s crafting may be narrower than previously proposed, by allowing commercial furniture workers to continue using the chemical under different restrictions than do-it-yourself users.

According to the notice, “while EPA proposed to identify the use of methylene chloride in commercial furniture refinishing as presenting an unreasonable risk, EPA intends to further evaluate the commercial furniture refinishing use and develop an appropriate regulatory risk management approach under the process for risk evaluations for existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act.”

Poor Ventilation Concerns

Concerns about bathtub refinishers and other home and maintenance worker exposures spread after coating strippers usage resulted in over 63 deaths associated with the use of the solvents in poorly ventilated spaces primarily by do-it-yourself users, according to a coalition of chemical safety advocates. The deaths were flagged by relatives in meetings with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last spring.

Liz Hitchcock, acting director of the chemical safety coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said that although it’s good the EPA is going forward with some regulatory action, “it would be substantially better if it didn’t just protect do-it-yourself users but also protected commercial workers exposed in furniture refinishing operations.”

“This is deeply troubling,” Richard Denison, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said. “EPA acknowledges unreasonable risk from this use but has decided to fold it into the ongoing risk evaluation of methylene chloride, which again will delay any action to mitigate this risk for years.”

The agency also announced that it will separate out the other paint stripper, N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), which was part of the 2017 methylene chloride proposed rule, into another regulation. The “EPA intends to address NMP use in paint and coating removal in the risk evaluation for NMP and to consider any resulting risk reduction requirements in a separate regulatory action” (RIN:2070-AK46).

—With assistance from Tiffany Stecker.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Gibb in Washington at sgibb@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com