EPA Looks to Ban Methylene Chloride

April 21, 2023
American Chemistry Council says proposal could have a ripple effect on the chemical supply chain.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a ban for most uses of methylene chloride, a substance commonly found in degreasers and paint strippers, saying workers who are exposed to the chemical face serious health risks.  

The agency proposed the ban on April 20 under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The ban would be fully implemented within 15 months, according to the EPA. It would allow for some uses to continue only where strict workplace controls could be implemented to minimize exposures to workers, according to an EPA press statement.

The EPA concluded that alternative products with similar costs and efficacy to methylene chloride products are generally available.

Reasons for The Ban

Since 1980, 85 people have died from exposure to methylene chloride, mainly workers involved in home renovation work, the EPA says. In some cases, these workers were fully trained and equipped with personal protective equipment. Many more people have endured severe health impacts, including certain cancers, according to the EPA.

The EPA banned the manufacturing and distribution of methylene chloride for consumer paint and coating removal in 2019. Use of the chemical remains widespread, the agency says.  

Methylene chloride is the second chemical to undergo risk management under the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, following agency proposed actions to protect people from asbestos exposure in 2022. Risk management action, which can include bans and phase-outs, is required under the law if the agency determines a chemical poses an unreasonable risk.

“The science on methylene chloride is clear, exposure can lead to severe health impacts and even death, a reality for far too many families who have lost loved ones due to acute poisoning,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a prepared statement. “That’s why EPA is taking action, proposing to ban most uses of this chemical and reduce exposures in all other scenarios by implementing more stringent workplace controls to protect worker health. This historic proposed ban demonstrates significant progress in our work to implement new chemical safety protections and take long-overdue actions to better protect public health.”

Permitted Uses

Products exempt from the ban include those that are used in climate-friendly refrigerants and aerospace and defense applications.

For permitted uses of methylene chloride, the EPA is proposing a workplace chemical protection program with strict exposure limits to better protect workers.

Employers have one year after the final risk-management ruling to comply with the worker chemical protection plan and would be required to periodically monitor their workplace to ensure that workers are not being exposed to levels of methylene chloride that would lead to an unreasonable risk.

Industry Response

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) says the ruling creates confusion with existing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits.

“For this particular chemistry, EPA has not established the necessity to set an additional, independent, occupational exposure limit in addition to those already in place,” according to an ACC statement.

The EPA says it consulted with OSHA while developing the proposed rule and considered existing OSHA requirements when establishing the proposed worker protections.

ACC also says the EPA didn’t consider the supply chain impacts of its proposal. The 15-month window to comply could have a significant impact on the chemical supply chain, the industry group says. It would result in 52% reduction of annual methylene chloride production volume.

“These sorts of ripple effects could impact critical uses, including pharmaceutical supply chains and the specific safety-critical, corrosion-sensitive critical uses identified by EPA,” the ACC statement said. “These unintended but potentially serious consequences should be carefully and thoroughly evaluated by EPA.” 

ACC said strong workplace safety programs are better alternatives to protecting workers from unreasonable risks over the EPA’s proposal.   

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.