As Confined Space readers know, the solvent Methylene Chloride has killed dozens of workers and consumers who used the material in enclosed spaces without realizing the extreme danger of the substance. MC is so hazardous that the Obama administration proposed to ban it. As might be expected, however, Trump’s EPA, under former administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew, the ban for further consideration, but after bi-partisan pressure from Congress and from the families of people killed by the solvent, Pruitt had second thoughts and last May committed to finalizing the ban. Meanwhile, numerous retailers, including Lowes, Home Depot, WalMart, Sherwin Williams, Home Hardware and True Value haven’t waited around and decided to stop selling the product as consumer and family groups have been urging.
Happy ending? Not so fast. Scott Pruitt may be gone, but his spirit still haunts the EPA. On Dec. 18, EPA submitted a final Methylene Chloride rule to OMB for review, published last night on the OMB website. So far, so good. And if you stop there, you’re probably pleased. But the same day, the agency submitted a separate “Pre-rule” announcement to OMB called “Methylene Chloride; Commercial Paint and Coating Removal Training, Certification and Limited Access Program ”
What’s going on here? The good folks at the Environmental Defense Fund have put these two announcements together and deduced that EPA is going to go ahead and ban MC for consumer use (the final rule), but start the entire regulatory process all over again for “commercial use”—which means workers—and instead of considering a ban, they are going to propose some kind of worker training and certification program.
EDF—and the families of Methylene Chloride victims—are not amused: For the families around the country who have lost loved ones to methylene chloride exposure, this is at best a half-step forward in getting these deadly paint strippers off the market. Rather than waiting for EPA to act, most major retailers have already removed or pledged to remove these products from their shelves. But that doesn’t protect most workers, and now it looks like EPA won’t either.” said Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager at Environmental Defense Fund.
“Instead, EPA will relegate any limits on commercial uses to a separate, nebulous and lengthy process it is only just starting, which will defer for years or even deny protection to those most at-risk: workers,” McCormick added.
And Liz Hitchcock, Director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, said in a statement: “While we are pleased that the EPA is following the lead of the eleven retailers who have committed to removing these products from store shelves nationwide, we are extremely disappointed by indications that the measure will not protect thousands of workers whose lives and health are in danger as they come into contact with methylene chloride on the job. EPA should do its job and protect all Americans from the dangers of methylene chloride.”
An EDF factsheet points out that the vast majority of reported deaths have occurred in the work setting (some of which you can read about here and here) and that certification programs are extremely complicated and costly to implement and difficult to enforce.
Although OSHA has a standard to protect workers against methylene chloride (which also causes cancer), workers continue to die and OSHA’s chemical standard-setting process is broken. The Toxic Substances Control Act gives the EPA the ability to address both occupational and consumer uses of methylene chloride, but under Trump, they’re ignoring the responsibility that Congress gave them.
So once again, workers are left in the dust as EPA again bends to the will of the chemical industry that seems to believe that if only workers would pay better attention to their training or read the labels well enough, they wouldn’t have to die.