Amazon Acts to Protect Public Health

The world’s largest online retailer has taken steps to fill the void left by the EPA by banning the deadly chemicals methylene chloride and NMP.
Credit: Alamy

The world’s largest online retailer has taken steps to fill the void left by the EPA by banning the deadly chemicals methylene chloride and NMP.

Joining major retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart, Amazon has now decided to halt the sale of paint removers containing methylene chloride or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) on its site by March 2019.

Amazon is the 11th company to make this move, and its announcement further highlights the failure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health from these toxic products. NRDC recently sent a letter to the EPA notifying it of our plan to sue the agency for failing to finalize its proposed rule to ban the use of methylene chloride and NMP in paint strippers.

Methylene chloride, a primary ingredient in many paint strippers and coatings, is a serious public health threat. Easily inhaled, the chemical turns into carbon monoxide in the body and can threaten users with quick suffocation and heart attacks. It also likely causes cancer.

To date the chemical is responsible for at least 60 deaths in the United States, many of them contractors and DIYers. In 2017, for instance, 31-year-old Drew Wynne purchased a methylene chloride paint stripper to remove paint from the floor of the walk-in refrigerator at his South Carolina start-up coffee company. He wore a respirator while applying the chemical. The following day, however, his business partner found him dead on the floor. Wynne’s death certificate said he was overcome by the chemicals in the paint stripper, primarily methylene chloride.

NMP, which has been used as a substitute for methylene chloride, poses its own risks: Studies have shown that it can impact fetal development and cause miscarriage and stillbirth. According to the EPA, more than 60,000 U.S. workers and 2 million consumers are exposed to methylene chloride and NMP annually. The agency proposed in 2017 to ban both chemicals from paint strippers, but despite a recognition of the dangers, President Trump’s EPA has failed to adopt these strong Obama-era rules—which is why we’ve seen the definitive action by the retail sector to protect its customers.

In May 2018, Lowe’s was the first company to commit to phasing out these products, saying it would do so by the end of the year. Home Depot, AutoZone, Sherwin-Williams, Kelly-Moore, and Canadian Tire quickly followed with the same commitment. More recently, Walmart announced it would phase out these products in its U.S., Canada, Central America, and Mexico stores by the end of February 2019. And now Amazon is committed to doing the same.

The EPA’s inaction is particularly baffling given that safer alternatives to these products are available. Research by the European Association for Safer Coating Removal in 2006 found that for every use that was studied of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal, there was a suitable non-NMP substitute. Potential safer substitutes for most uses of methylene chloride include benzyl alcohol formulations, dibasic esters, and nonchemical methods, including sanding, media blasting, and heat tools. The California Department of Public Health has a guide to choosing safer paint removal products.

NRDC thanks Amazon and other retailers for moving to protect their consumers in the face of the Trump administration’s ongoing failure to protect the public. We again call on the EPA to move quickly to catch up with the retail sector by finalizing the proposed ban on the use of methylene chloride or NMP in paint strippers. If the agency fails to act, we’ll go to court to get the protections that the law requires and the public deserves.

Related Blogs