Two nonprofit organizations have filed a federal complaint against the EPA for its failure to regulate methylene chloride, a chemical found in paint strippers that has been blamed for 50 deaths. Andrew Wheeler, Acting Administrator of the EPA, is also named in the suit.

The complaint by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement alleges that the EPA has violated its statutory obligations by not enacting a ban on the substance in paint and coating removal products, despite determining that methylene chloride presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to health” more than two years ago. During that time, according to the suit, at least four more people – including at least two workers – have died from exposure to methylene chloride paint strippers.

Methylene chloride causes cancer, heart attacks, and sudden death from asphyxiation, with many users losing consciousness while applying off-the-shelf paint stripping products. The complaint notes that chronic exposure to the fumes from the paint strippers increases the risk of cancer, liver toxicity and other ailments.

Two years

The complaint says the EPA proposed the ban in January 2017 and reiterated its intention to finalize the Proposed Ban in May 2018, after meeting with the families of two of the victims.

”However, in violation of its nondiscretionary duties under TSCA section 6, EPA has failed to do so….Methylene chloride is not only likely to result in injury, but it has already caused multiple deaths while the Proposed Ban has languished before EPA. Moreover, with approximately 1.3 million consumers and workers exposed each year, methylene chloride will continue to present an imminent hazard until it is removed from use.”

The LCLAA represents the interests of approximately two million Latino and Latina workers in the labor movement, many of whom work in construction trades where methylene chloride paint strippers are routinely used. EPA has acknowledged that methylene chloride presents a disproportionate risk to Latino and Latina workers, who are more likely to be exposed to the chemical at work.