Today, Latino workers, environmental and public health advocates, and the mothers of two young men who recently died from methylene chloride exposure notified the Trump administration of their intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its failure to finalize a ban on the use of this lethal chemical in paint strippers. Methylene chloride is responsible for more than 60 reported deaths, including at least four since EPA proposed banning methylene chloride paint strippers in January 2017. However, the Trump EPA has violated its public commitments and legal obligations to finalize that ban.
“No parent should ever have to bury their child. No one else should have gone through what I’m going through because of a paint removal product. The EPA must get these products off store shelves,” said Lauren Atkins, whose 31-year-old son Joshua died from methylene chloride exposure on February 12, 2018.
“One life is one too many to have been lost to this deadly chemical. We have lost loved ones due to the chemical industry’s and the EPA’s inaction to ban methylene chloride. Retailers have stepped up to save lives. How many more people will the EPA allow to die before they ban methylene chloride?” said Wendy Hartley, whose 21-year-old son Kevin died from methylene chloride exposure on April 28, 2017.
EPA estimates that 1.3 million Americans are exposed to methylene chloride from paint strippers in their homes and workplaces each year. Acute exposure to methylene chloride is known to cause asphyxiation, heart failure, and sudden death, while long-term exposure presents an increased risk of cancer, liver disease, and other serious health effects.
“Latino workers are more likely to perform jobs that use paint strippers, placing them at greater risk of harm from methylene chloride,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement executive director. “Our communities should no longer be senselessly exposed to this toxic chemical. Methylene chloride paint strippers must be banned immediately.”
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the country’s principal chemical safety law, requires EPA to regulate chemicals that present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. In January 2017, the Obama administration determined that methylene chloride places consumers, workers, and bystanders at unreasonable risk of injury and proposed to ban its use in paint strippers. In May 2018, EPA promised to finalize that ban “shortly,” but it has taken no action since then.
“EPA’s inaction on this admittedly deadly chemical is unsafe and unlawful. The law does not allow EPA to drag its feet while lives hang in the balance,” said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, counsel for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
In the absence of federal action, eight major U.S. home improvement and auto parts retailers have taken action this year to protect their customers from the chemical, announcing plans to ban methylene chloride-based paint strippers from thousands of store shelves nationwide.
“Since EPA proposed its methylene chloride ban, four American families have lost loved ones. In light of the Trump EPA’s continued failure to act, retailers are stepping up and taking action to protect their customers from this dangerous chemical. EPA must follow the home improvement industry’s lead and ban these deadly paint removers from store shelves and workplaces nationwide,” said Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Director Liz Hitchcock.
TSCA requires parties to provide to EPA at least 60 days’ notice prior to the commencement of most citizen suits. On October 31, 2018, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Lauren Atkins, and Wendy Hartley submitted notice of their intent to sue EPA over its delayed methylene chloride ban.
“Removing old paint is a chore that many Americans take on themselves. It can be difficult, but there’s no reason for it to be deadly,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “The EPA needs to act now to protect consumers.”
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.