October 31, 2019

EPA Identifies "Adverse Health Risks" Related to Methylene Chloride Exposure

A new draft risk evaluation (PDF) published by EPA on Tuesday identifies “adverse health risks associated with acute and chronic inhalation exposure” to methylene chloride under some conditions of use. The draft document describes how workers, consumers, and bystanders could be adversely affected by methylene chloride use. Occupational non-users, or workers in the general area of methylene chloride use, may also face adverse effects. EPA urges workers who use methylene chloride products to follow label instructions and applicable workplace regulations and to use appropriate personal protective equipment when necessary.

The solvent methylene chloride is a volatile, colorless liquid with a sweet-smelling odor used in a variety of industries, including paint and coating removal, plastic processing, metal cleaning and degreasing, and adhesive manufacturing. According to EPA, the agency reviewed 72 potential uses of methylene chloride to develop its draft risk evaluation. These potential uses include commercial paint and coating removal, consumer adhesives, sealants, degreasers, cleaners, and automobile care products.

EPA is accepting comments on its new draft risk evaluation until Dec. 30, 2019. The Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals—a federal advisory committee charged with providing scientific advice, information, and recommendations to EPA on chemicals regulated under Toxic Substances Control Act legislation—will also review the draft risk evaluation during a meeting that will be held Dec. 3–4, 2019. EPA urges individuals to submit comments on the draft risk evaluation by Nov. 26 to allow the committee time to review them prior to the meeting. Comments submitted after Nov. 26 and before the Dec. 30 deadline will still be considered.

The new draft risk evaluation is the fifth that EPA has published under the amended TSCA legislation. As amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was signed into law in June 2016, TSCA requires EPA to complete risk evaluations for 10 chemicals, including methylene chloride, by December 2019.

In March, EPA issued a final rule to prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride in all paint removers for consumer use. The agency’s final rule states that EPA has determined that the use of the chemical in consumer paint- and coating-removal products presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to health due to acute human lethality.” The rule, which went into effect on May 28, does not address commercial uses of methylene chloride. EPA previously said it will solicit input on a future rulemaking that could establish a training, certification, and limited-access program for methylene chloride for commercial uses.

A final risk assessment completed by EPA in 2014 (PDF) indicates health risks to both workers and consumers who use products containing methylene chloride. At that time, EPA estimated that more than 230,000 U.S. workers are exposed to methylene chloride from paint-stripping products containing the chemical. That estimate does not account for workers who are indirectly exposed when others in a facility are performing paint stripping using methylene chloride.

OSHA and NIOSH issued a joint hazard alert in early 2013 to warn of methylene chloride hazards for bathtub refinishers. In 2016, OSHA issued a “Fatal Facts” sheet (PDF) stating that the agency had identified 17 worker deaths related to bathtub refinishing using paint removers containing methylene chloride from 2000 to 2015.