On March 15, 2019, the EPA proposed as a Final Rule a scaled down version of the total ban on the use of methyl chloride in paint stripper. The EPA proposed the Final Rule in connection with its administration of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Under the scaled down version, methyl chloride is banned from all consumer use paint removers but this toxic chemical can still be used for commercial applications provided there is appropriate training. This version of the Final Rule is a departure from the total ban previously proposed by the Obama Administration and “…reflects a compromise with the Pentagon, which lobbied for a carve-out given the military’s widespread use of paint strippers on bases across the globe.”

Methylene chloride is a popular ingredient of do-it-your-selfer paint strippers and it has been available despite significant health risks. The chemical industry maintains that paint stipper with methylene is safe to use with proper precautions. The EPA’s rule does not include N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), an alternative for methylene chloride.

In issuing the scaled down version of the Final Rule, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that ‘[a]fter analyzing the health impacts and listening to affected families, EPA is taking action to stop the use of this chemical in paint removers intended for consumers.” According to the national environmental health organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, since 1980 at least 64 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride.

The reaction to the scaled down version of the Final Rule by some survivors of those who have died from exposure is somewhat mixed. One mother who lost her 21 year old son – professionally trained to refinish bathtubs – believe it is a “step in the right direction” but submits that the EPA needs to do its job and provide a total ban since workers will continue to be exposed and at risk. The brother of a sibling who died after applying paint stripper to the floor of a start-up company commented on the Final Rule and quipped that “[y]ou take a win when you get a win.”

Under the Final Rule, paint removal products containing methylene chloride will not be sold at any retail or distribution establishments that have consumer sales, including e-commerce sales. The implications of this rule will be in place quickly, since pursuant to this new regulation, stores will have 180 days to stop selling products containing methylene chloride. After that, violators will face fines or possible imprisonment. The EPA anticipates that retailers will comply much quicker. So far, at least 13 retailers have already announced that they have removed or will remove from their shelves paint-stripping products that contain the chemical.

In addition to the ban issued last Friday, the EPA is also requiring manufacturers, processors, and distributors to notify retailers and others in their supply chains of the prohibitions and to keep basic records. The agency is also considering a proposal for a certification and training program for workers who use the chemical commercially; and is soliciting public input for future rule making on that issue. Once published, the final rule and supporting documents will be available in the Federal Register docket and by searching for EPA-HQ-OPPT-2016-0231.