Hand with a spatula renovating the paint.

Don’t you know that you’re toxic? EPA spears most uses of controversial solvent.

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In late April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a ban on most uses of methylene chloride, a toxic solvent used for paint stripping and linked to over 85 deaths in the last 45 years. The ban forbids all consumer use of the substance, as well as most industrial and commercial uses. TheEPA did not completely ban all uses — it did allow some exemptions for the military, in addition to makers of climate-friendly coolants and electric-vehicle components.

Users often employ methylene chloride to refinish bathtubs and furniture, or to make pharmaceuticals and refrigerants. Short-term exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, and damage to the central nervous system. Some studies link long-term exposure to brain, breast, liver, and lung cancers, among others.

EPA’s final rule requires companies to rapidly phase down manufacturing, processing and distribution of methylene chloride. Consumer use of the chemical will be phased out within a year, most industrial and commercial uses within two years. The rule does not apply to methylene chloride added to foods such as decaffeinated coffee and certain spice extracts; these items fall under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration, not the EPA.

The EPA also established a program aimed at protecting workers from exposure to methylene chloride, especially those engaged in bathtub refinishing or other paint stripping. The program will involve strict monitoring requirements, exposure limits, and worker training.

Big retailers have already pulled methylene chloride from their shelves. But while others such as The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, an industry group, wrote in public comments on the proposed rule that methylene chloride “has been used by hundreds of thousands of workers in dozens of different applications for many decades, with no evidence of liver toxicity or increased cancer risk,” they couldn’t stop the ban.

The ban represents part of a Biden administration effort to restrict many different types of toxic chemicals through the use of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which Congress overhauled in 2016. As discussed here previously, the EPA recently banned the only form of asbestos that was still in use, as well as extensively regulating two of the most commoncompounds of PFAS, designating them hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law).

If your business employs methylene chloride in its manufacturing of products or provision of services, make sure to consult an attorney regarding whether you qualify for an exemption or, if not, the timeline by which you must remove methylene chloride from your operations. If your business is fortunate enough not to use it, reviewing your processes to confirm what chemicals and compounds you do use, and whether they’re on the Administration’s chopping block, could save you from surprises down the road.