VPIRG Joins Suit Against Trump EPA for Failure to Act on Deadly Paint Strippers

Environmental and public health advocates and the mothers of two young men who recently died from methylene chloride exposure today filed a lawsuit against Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their failure to finalize a ban on the use of the lethal chemical in paint strippers. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Vermont.

“One life is one too many to have been lost to this deadly chemical. We have lost loved ones due to the chemical industry’s and the EPA’s inaction to ban methylene chloride. Retailers have stepped up to save lives. How many more people will the EPA allow to die before they ban methylene chloride?” said Wendy Hartley, whose 21-year-old son Kevin died from methylene chloride exposure on April 28, 2017.

“No parent should ever have to bury their child. No one else should have go through what I’m going through because of a paint removal product. The EPA must get these products off store shelves,” said Lauren Atkins, whose 31-year-old son Joshua died from methylene chloride exposure on February 12, 2018.

EPA estimates that 1.3 million Americans are exposed to methylene chloride from paint strippers in their homes and workplaces each year. Acute exposure to methylene chloride is known to cause asphyxiation, heart failure, and sudden death, while long-term exposure presents an increased risk of cancer, liver disease, and other serious health effects.

Methylene chloride is responsible for more than 60 reported deaths, including at least four since EPA proposed banning methylene chloride paint strippers in January 2017. However, the Trump EPA has violated its public commitments and legal obligations by failing to finalize that ban, leaving consumers and workers exposed to the chemical’s dangers.

“Since EPA proposed its methylene chloride ban, at least four American families have lost loved ones. In light of the Trump EPA’s continued failure to act, eleven retailers have announced that they will stop selling these dangerous products. EPA must follow the home improvement industry’s lead and ban these deadly paint removers from store shelves and workplaces nationwide,” said Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Director Liz Hitchcock.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the country’s principal chemical safety law, requires EPA to regulate chemicals that present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. In January 2017, the Obama Administration determined that methylene chloride places consumers, workers, and bystanders at unreasonable risk of injury and proposed to ban its use in paint strippers. In May 2018, EPA promised to finalize that ban “shortly.”

In the absence of federal action, eleven major North American home improvement and auto parts retailers have taken action over the past year to protect their customers from the chemical, announcing plans to ban methylene chloride-based paint strippers from thousands of store shelves nationwide.

“These chemicals can be deadly, whether you’re on the job or a home do-it-yourselfer. There’s just no excuse for the government’s failure to follow through in protecting both workers and consumers,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.