Apr 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

EPA bans most uses of toxic solvent linked to cancer

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan speaking in the White House in August 2023.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan speaking in the White House in August 2023. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule on Tuesday that bans most uses of a chemical commonly used as a paint stripper that has caused dozens of deaths and has been linked to cancer and other health issues.

Why it matters: The EPA said the new rule on methylene chloride will protect Americans' health while still allowing some uses that are important to national security and the economy.

How it works: Methylene chloride is a solvent used in several different applications, like adhesives, paint and coating products, pharmaceuticals, metal cleaning, chemical processing and aerosols.

  • However, the EPA has found that it poses an unreasonable health risk to workers and consumers due to neurotoxicity from short-term exposure and liver toxicity, liver cancer and lung cancer from long-term exposure.

Threat level: At least 88 people, largely workers involved in bathtub refinishing or other paint stripping operations, have died from sudden exposure to methylene chloride since 1980, according to the EPA.

  • The EPA noted that some deaths occurred even when workers were fully trained and had personal protective equipment.
  • It's unclear how many people have died from long-term exposure to the chemical.

What they're saying: "Exposure to methylene chloride has devastated families across this country for too long, including some who saw loved ones go to work and never come home," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

  • "EPA's final action brings an end to unsafe methylene chloride practices and implements the strongest worker protections possible for the few remaining industrial uses, ensuring no one in this country is put in harm's way by this dangerous chemical."

The big picture: The EPA banned one consumer application involving methylene chloride in 2019 but use of the chemical remained widespread, posing a significant danger to workers, the EPA said.

  • The rule finalized Tuesday will ban most uses, except for a few involving the production of other chemicals, electric vehicle batteries, plastic and rubber manufacturing and solvent welding, though additional worker protections and other requirements must be in place.
  • It will still be used in producing refrigerant chemicals because alternatives, like hydrofluorocarbons, are extremely potent greenhouse gases that greatly contribute to climate change, the EPA said.

Go deeper: EPA lists 2 common "forever chemicals" as Superfund hazardous substances

Go deeper