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Walmart to Shed Solvents Linked to Deaths, Birth Defects

Aug. 20, 2018, 2:00 PM

Walmart Inc., the world’s largest retailer, will stop selling paint strippers containing a solvent linked to more than a dozen deaths and a second solvent that could harm the development of babies in the womb.

The phase out applies to paint strippers with either methylene chloride or n-methylpyrroilidone (NMP). Suppliers must stop shipping paint strippers with either solvent by the end of this year, meaning the products should no longer be sold by the end of February 2019, a Walmart spokesman told Bloomberg Environment.

The phase out “goes above and beyond current legal and regulatory compliances,” Walmart said in its Aug. 20 announcement.

Walmart’s phase out applies to its online sales and to its 8,855 stores in the U.S., Canada, Central America, and Mexico.

Walmart’s 1,444 stores in Chile, China, and the U.K. already stopped selling paint strippers with either solvent.

That means, as of early next year, sales of paint strippers with either solvent won’t be sold in most of Walmart’s nearly 12,000 worldwide stores.

Extent of Phase Outs

Walmart’s announcement follows similar actions that Lowe’s, Sherwin-Williams, and the Home Depot Product Authority LLC have taken, although the scope of these phaseouts varies.

Lowe’s, the first retailer to announce it will stop selling paint strippers with either solvent, said its action will apply throughout its stores. The company operates about 2,154 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, according to Bloomberg Intelligence senior analyst Seema Menon Shah.

Home Depot told Bloomberg Environment that its phase out of both solvents, announced in June, applies to online sales and its stores in the U.S. and Canada.

By the end of this year, Sherwin-Williams will require its suppliers to remove both solvents from any paint strippers it sells in its retail stores throughout Canada, the U.S., and all of South America, Mike Conway, the company’s director of communications told Bloomberg Environment Aug. 20. Sherwin-Williams’ Americas Group operates 4,620 stores in these countries, according to its annual report.

Health Concerns, Campaign

Health concerns behind the retailers actions include deaths that methylene chloride-based paint strippers have caused when used without sufficient ventilation. For example, health departments throughout the U.S. have blamed the solvent for contributing to the deaths of at least 17 bathtub refinishers.

In addition, N-methylpyrrolidone could harm babies’ development when a pregnant woman is exposed to high concentrations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The companies’ actions also follow an online campaign in which Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families asked retailers to stop selling paint and coating strippers with either of the two solvents.

Additional retailers Safer Chemicals is focusing on include Ace Hardware Corp. and Menard Inc., a chain of home improvement centers located primarily in the Midwest.

Safer Chemicals, a coalition of environmental, health, and labor groups, mounted its campaign after the EPA proposed in the last months of the Obama administration to ban consumer uses of stripping products containing both chemicals, but then took no further action under the Trump administration.

In May, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with families whose loved ones died following their exposure to methylene chloride. He then announced that the EPA would proceed to ban or restrict methylene chloride paint strippers.

The agency, however, has not sent any final rule to White House regulatory reviewers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergenvironment.com