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EPA Warns of Chemical Stripper Danger

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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U.S. regulators are taking a closer look at regulating methylene chloride paint removers in the wake of a risk assessment that deems the products hazardous to workers, consumers and even bystanders.

The findings of the final risk assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could lead to curtailing use of the chemical, also known as Dichloromethane (DCM), as Europe has done.

"Our review indicates that the use of DCM in paint strippers pose risks to human health, so EPA is beginning an effort to determine options for addressing the concern," Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Paint Manufacturing Tank
CA Department of Health

A California alert followed the death of a worker using DCM paint stripper in this tank in 2012.

The agency is planning a public workshop in late fall to discuss "possible voluntary and regulatory actions" on DCM.

Alerts, Deaths

DCM was one of three chemicals for which EPA released final risk assessments Thursday (Aug. 28). The agency also recently concluded its assessment of Trichloroethylene (TCE), used as a degreaser and spray-on protective coating.

Public concerns over the safety of DCM-containing strippers have risen in recent years.

The European Union sharply curtailed the use and sales of methylene chloride paint strippers in 2012. The same year, California health regulators issued a Fatality Alert about the products after a tank painter died from vapors at a paint manufacturing plant. The strippers have been linked to a number of other deaths in the United States as well.

In January 2013, EPA announced that it would be evaluating DCM and four other chemicals. The assessments are part of EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Work Plan, which identifies chemicals for review and assessment of risks to human health and the environment.

What EPA Found

For DCM, EPA's final assessment "indicates health risks to both workers and consumers who use these products, and to bystanders in workplaces and residences where DCM is used."

USMC / Cpl. Rubin J. Tan

Paint remover is applied to an aircraft’s landing gear during an inspection aboard USS Enterprise. EPA estimates that more than 230,000 U.S. workers are directly exposed to DCM strippers.

The agency estimates that "more than 230,000 workers nationwide are directly exposed to DCM from DCM-containing paint strippers."

"Paint stripping poses some of the highest exposures among the various uses of DCM," the agency says in a Fact Sheet on DCM.

Other Paint Strippers

EPA is still evaluating risks from the use of N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP)-containing paint strippers and anticipates issuing that final risk assessment this fall.

Meanwhile, however, EPA's draft risk assessment for NMP identified risks associated with the use of NMP-containing paint strippers. EPA does not expect the final risk assessment to significantly change this conclusion and recommends that users of these products take measures to minimize exposure.

Paint Remover
Michigan State University

Methylene chloride is not the only stripping chemical of concern. The EPA also sees risks in products using NMP.

The California Department of Public Health offers a safety-focused guide to selecting paint strippers.

Flame Retardants, Degreasers

The other two chemicals in Thursday's announcement fared better in EPA's final analysis.

Risk assessments "did not show concerns" for Antimony Trioxide (ATO), a synergist in halogenated flame retardants, or for 1,3,4,6,7,8-Hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8,-hexamethylcyclopenta-[γ]-2-benzopyran (HHCB), a fragrance ingredient in consumer products, the EPA reported

Shanghai Vangel Chemical Co. Ltd.

The EPA reported no health concerns for the flame retardant additive Antimony Trioxide (ATO).

On the other hand, the agency's final risk assessment on TCE, released June 25, did raise concerns about certain uses.

The assessment identified health risks to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives and to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops and as a stain remover in dry cleaning. The agency also said TCE may harm the environment.

'Careful Consideration'

The new risk assessments are based on the "best available information" and were finalized after "careful consideration" of comments from the public and experts during an independent, scientific peer review of the assessments, according to the EPA.

"While EPA continues to support much needed reform of this country's chemicals management legislation, we are also using our current authorities as effectively as we can, which includes conducting risk assessments on chemicals to determine if they are safe for public use," said Jones.


Tagged categories: Chemical stripping; EPA; Health and safety; Methylene chloride; Surface preparation

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