Lowe's announced this week that sales of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and the solvent NMP will be phased out in its home improvement stores.

The toxic chemicals have been blamed in a number of deaths and injuries to both consumers and workers. This story, which was posted on ISHN.com on June 13, 2017, describes how 21-year-old Kevin Hartley died after being overcome by chemical fumes while stripping a bathtub. Hartley was using a substance that contained methylene chloride.

Lowe’s says it will phase out paint removal products with the chemicals methylene chloride and NMP from its global product selection by the end of the year.

“This effort is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to bring safer, affordable options to customers,” the company said in a statement.

Banned in the EU

Lowe’s has been one of the retailers under fire by safety advocates for carrying the products. The European Union pulled methylene chloride paint strippers from general use in 2011. In 2016, OSHA issued an alert on “Lethal Exposure to Methylene Chloride during Bathtub Refinishing” in which it strongly encouraged employers to provide safer alternatives to methylene chloride paint stripping products.

“We care deeply about the health and safety of our customers, and great progress is being made in the development of safer and more effective alternatives,” said Mike McDermott, Lowe’s chief customer officer. “As a home improvement leader, we recognize the need for viable paint removal products and remain committed to working closely with suppliers to further innovate in this category.”

National Resources Defense Council Policy Specialist Sujatha Bergen hailed Lowe’s for its decision, but noted that the EPA has yet to take regulatory action on the issue.

No action from EPA

“Lowe's is acting to save lives by pulling these products from the shelf,” said Bergen. “Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt’s EPA has shirked action and catered to the chemical industry instead of facing up to this public health issue.

“Lowe's is showing leadership as the first major U.S. retailer to eliminate methylene chloride paint strippers from its stores. It underscores the failure of this EPA to do its job to protect the American public from dangerous toxic chemicals. Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon and other companies should follow Lowe’s lead, and the EPA should immediately issue a comprehensive ban on deadly chemicals in paint strippers to keep consumers safe.”

Lowe’s said it plans to work with the EPA, key non-governmental organizations and suppliers to quickly market new alternatives and lead change in the industry.

Sustainable options

The Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), a multi-stakeholder collaborative that drives the commercial adoption of green chemistry and which counts Lowe’s among its leading retailer members, welcomes the opportunity to work with the company in engaging the value chain to scale more sustainable options.

According to GC3 Director Joel Tickner, “Lowe’s announcement provides an important stimulus for green chemistry solutions. As we work with GC3 members and others across the entire value chain, we recognize that green chemistry alternatives must offer comparable performance at a reasonable price for the end-users, whether consumers or contractors.”

Lowe’s currently has several paint remover alternatives without methylene chloride available today and has plans to bring more options to consumers by year-end. The company is encouraging vendors to improve labeling on packaging to better communicate the proper use of these chemicals, along with product safety guides and instructions on Lowes.com.