The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed on Thursday to ban most uses of a toxic chemical used in paint removal.
The proposal would ban most industrial and commercial uses of methylene chloride, which, in addition to paint removal, is used as a solvent in making pharmaceuticals and in electronics.
One study found that methylene-chloride exposure killed 85 people between 1980 and 2018. The substance has also been linked to certain cancers.
The new proposal, from the Biden administration, goes further than a Trump administration rule that banned the sale to consumers of paint strippers using methylene chloride but did not address its industrial uses.
An EPA press release states that after the 2019 rule, the use of the solvent remained “widespread.”
“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 written 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,” he said.
The agency is not proposing a complete ban on the substance. Instead, it is proposing to set new workplace standards aimed at limiting exposure to the substance’s use at government agencies like the Defense Department, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Environmental organizations largely celebrated the proposal, with many saying it applied the same common-sense protections the Trump administration gave consumers to workers who need it just as much.
“EPA just decided to leave workers who had the greatest exposures to methylene chloride paint strippers in harm’s way,” Earthjustice senior attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz said of the Trump-era rule.
“This rule will finally provide workers with the same protection as consumers,” Kalmuss-Katz added of the Biden rule.
However, he said that any exemption “is going to leave people exposed to a chemical that is not only carcinogenic, but hugely lethal, and it is critical that those exemptions be as short-lived and as narrow as possible.”
The chemical industry, meanwhile, raised concerns about the potential supply chain effects of the EPA’s proposal.
“EPA’s website says most of these changes would be fully implemented in 15 months and would amount to a prohibition of an estimated 52% of annual production volume for end uses subject to [the Toxic Substances Control Act]. That scale of reduction in production, that rapidly, could have substantial supply chain impacts if manufacturers have contractual obligations they need to follow through on or if manufacturers decide to cease production entirely,” a written statement from the American Chemistry Council read.
The group warned of the potential for “ripple effects,” including in the pharmaceutical industry.