Nonprofits Hold EPA’s Feet to Fire on Toxic Paint Strippers

MANHATTAN (CN) — Exposure to a common paint stripper has killed at least four people in the two years since the Environmental Protection Agency proposed banning methylene chloride for commercial and consumer uses.

On Tuesday, two nonprofits brought a federal complaint in New York to compel follow-through.

“Given the risks posed by methylene chloride and the acknowledged need for the proposed ban, there is no basis for EPA’s delays to date, much less any further delay,” the complaint states.

Represented by in-house counsel and attorneys at Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council brought the lawsuit here the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of Latino laborers.

The council notes that many of its 2 million members work in construction trades where they risk exposure to toxic methylene chloride.

“According to public records, more than 50 people have already died from exposure to methylene chloride paint strippers, and countless others continue to face increased risks of death and other serious health effects,” the complaint states. 

The EPA relied on such data in January 2017 when it proposed banning commercial and consumer paint-stripping uses of methylene chloride, but the challengers say regulators have offered little more than lip service in the intervening years.

Just this past May, when it met with the families of two workers killed by methylene chloride in May 2018, the EPA “reiterated its unreasonable risk determination and stated that it would finalize the proposed ban ‘shortly.’”

“However, in violation of its non-discretionary duties under TSCA section 6, EPA has failed to do so,” the complaint states, using an abbreviation for the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Scott Pruitt had been administrator of the EPA at the time of the May 2018 meeting, but President Donald Trump has since tapped Andrew Wheeler to lead the agency.

“Wheeler and the failing Trump EPA are hurting the public and violating the law by refusing to finalize the ban on methylene chloride,” Daniel Rosenberg, a director at the NRDC, said in a statement.

In addition to acute impacts such as loss of consciousness and death by asphyxiation, the complaint notes that chronic exposure to the fumes from the paint strippers increases the risk of cancer, liver toxicity and other ailments.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency knows that methylene chloride is killing workers, and it knows that only a ban will protect them,” Earthjustice staff attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz said in a statement. “Yet the Trump administration is so beholden to the chemical industry that it has chosen to leave workers and consumers in harm’s way.” 

The groups seek to have the ban finalized in consumer and commercial paint strippers within 30 days.

“If more than 50 coroner’s reports are not enough to get EPA to ban one of the most dangerous chemicals on the market, what is,” Kalmuss-Katz said.

Representatives for the EPA and Wheeler did not respond to emails seeking comment.

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