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REPORT: Dangerous Paint-Stripping Chemical, Methylene Chloride, Will Kill Until It’s Regulated

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A recent report from the Center for Public Integrity shows that Methylene chloride, a common solvent used for stripping paint, continues to kill those who use it though the lethal effects have been known since the 1940’s

The analysis links 56 accidental exposure deaths in the United States to Methylene Chloride since 1980.  The victims have ranged from teenagers, to mothers, to janitors, to retired hobbyists.  It be purchased barely diluted on retail shelves, which makes the fact that lobbyists have blocked its regulation even scarier.  

Katy Wolf, Director of the Institute for Research and Technical Assistance, recommends safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

“People have died, it poses this cancer threat … and everybody knows it’s a bad chemical,” she said.  “It’s appalling and irresponsible.”

The EPA is working on new rules to govern the solvent and is expected to proposed them next year. But the move has been 30 years in the making and changes are expected to be fought tooth and nail by well-funded industry interests.  Faye Graul, Executive Director of the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, told the Center for Public Integrity that the way to stop the string of deaths is simple: “Proper use of the product.”  

OSHA has attempted to tackle the issue but is powerless in many ways as the Methylene Chloride-related deaths involve lone workers. The Center for Public Integrity explains:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration tightened its rules for on-the-job exposures to methylene chloride in 1997. But OSHA standards don’t cover consumers or the self-employed, and many of the recent fatalities happened at sites that are virtually invisible to the agency until there’s a death — inside residential bathrooms where lone workers strip tubs of old, chipped finishes.

Dr. Robert Harrison, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s occupational health surveillance program described how helpful public awareness would be:

“It’s not surprising to the scientists who have studied methylene chloride in paint strippers when used in small spaces, but I think it’s surprising to the worker and consumer who can purchase the product off the shelf.”

Read the Center for Public Integrity’s fascinating report for more info.


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