EPA moves to further limit deadly methylene chloride

EPA today issued a proposed rule that would further limit the deadly chemical methylene chloride, proposing to ban the use of methylene chloride for all consumer uses and most industrial uses. EPA says the banned uses account for 52% of current methylene chloride production.

In response, Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, former EPA senior scientist and policy advisor and UCSF professor and director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) said:

EPA’s proposed ban on consumer uses of methylene chloride is a giant step forward, but exceptions in industrial uses still leaves workers and communities at risk. These major exceptions represent roughly 48% of current methylene chloride production and allow some uses of methylene chloride to continue for a decade or longer. Our work has shown that continued use of methylene chloride can result in tragic loss of life. We urge EPA to quickly finalize a rule that protects all workers and communities, and we look forward to the day that the Agency uses its full statutory authority to remove this deadly chemical from use.”

The exceptions include certain uses by the military, commercial aviation, and for use in manufacturing chemicals that replace HFCs, potent greenhouse gases which are being phased out due to their contributions to climate change.

The new proposed rule comes four years after EPA moved to limit methylene chloride paint strippers from consumer use, leaving the deadly chemical available for commercial use. And it comes two years after PRHE released a comprehensive study finding workers, unprotected by the consumer ban, were more likely to die from exposure to methylene chloride. This is despite the fact that there have been safer alternatives used in Europe for over a decade, meaning these deaths were preventable.

EPA’s rationale for not banning certain industrial and commercial uses is “because EPA believes that exposures can be prevented” and that its proposal incorporates strong worker protections. EPA also says that the prohibitions on methylene chloride manufacture and use will address health risks in communities where methylene chloride plants operate. However, PRHE plans to scrutinize the proposal to evaluate whether these measures sufficiently protect workers and communities who currently face unacceptable risks from methylene chloride exposure.

PRHE will submit public comments on the proposed rule to EPA during the 60-day comment period in the hopes that the Agency will take the final step to protect all workers and communities from methylene chloride.