Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration’s strategy of stalling and stonewalling on action to protect the public from toxic chemicals is starting to crumble, and the latest proof is last week’s announcement by Lowe’s that it will stop selling paint strippers containing two toxic chemicals, methylene chloride (MC) and n-methypyrollidone (NMP). The Obama administration had proposed to ban the use of both chemicals after concluding that they posed unreasonable risks to health, but Trump and Pruitt, catering to the chemical industry, shelved the proposal a year ago.
Use of methylene chloride has been banned for consumer and commercial use in Europe since 2012. But in the past year, at least four people in the United States have died from methylene chloride poisoning, which can easily overwhelm and kill someone when inhaled, even when wearing a respirator. It is also linked to cancer, making even non-acutely lethal doses harmful over time. NRDC, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the Learning Disabilities Association, and other health advocates have called upon Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other retailers to stop carrying paint strippers containing either chemical. Lowe’s is the first major retailer in the United States to announce that it will take action, promising to have paint strippers containing either methylene chloride or its toxic alternative NMP off its shelves by the end of this year. Advocates had gathered more than 200,000 petition signatures to Lowe’s, and staged protests outside of its stores in several states.
Unfortunately, in contrast to Lowe’s health-protective commitment, Home Depot issued a wishy-washy head-in-sand statement. Speaking to the Washington Post, a Home Depot spokeswoman said: “For us, we’re continuing to follow what EPA does, and EPA regulations,” adding that “the primary demand for those products is professional contractors.” So, Home Depot’s plan to protect its customers from toxic chemicals is to follow the lead of Scott Pruitt? Following the lead of a do-nothing Administrator will do nothing to protect Home Depot shoppers.
- Scott Pruitt shelved the proposed ban on methylene chloride in the first place, resulting in multiple fatalities. EPA has said it will issue a final rule on methylene chloride “shortly,” but it’s anyone’s guess when or what kind of loopholes it may have.
- Scott Pruitt also shelved a proposed ban on the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos which the Agency already found to pose an unreasonable risk to the health of children, and is linked to increased risk of learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
- Under Pruitt the EPA has already been sued multiple times for its failing to properly implement the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to protect the public from unsafe chemicals, both new and existing.
- Pruitt put a chemical industry lobbyist in charge of EPA’s “Chemical Safety” office.
- Pruitt held a “summit” to address the nationwide concern over the widespread detection of cancer-causing “Teflon” PFAS chemicals in drinking water and then barred news reporters (including having a reporter forcibly ejected).
- Pruitt’s staff worked to block another federal agency from releasing a report showing those same “Teflon” PFAS chemicals are dangerous at lower levels of exposure than EPA’s current standards because—according to one White House staffer—it would be a “public relations nightmare.”
- Pruitt’s “Chemical Safety Office” announced just last Friday that it would not take steps to address “legacy” uses or disposal of asbestos as part of its required evaluation of that deadly known carcinogen, and will similarly exclude consideration of exposures to a half dozen other chemicals, including methylene chloride and NMP.
That’s who Home Depot is looking to for leadership on how to deal with the threat of toxic chemicals in products on its store shelves? Sad!
To be clear, EPA under Pruitt has done nothing to protect the public from these two dangerous toxic chemicals. The Pruitt EPA has no credible defense for its inaction on methylene chloride and NMP—and it has forfeited the presumption that it will act to protect public safety over fulfilling the wish list of the chemical industry.
Home Depot—as well as Wal-Mart, Amazon, Ace Hardware, and others—should prioritize public health and acting to protect their customers, not offering lame excuses for their failure to do so.
For the record, not all the people who have died from exposure to methylene chloride over the past decade have been do-it-yourself (DIY) consumers—the employees of professional contractors have also been victims of this dangerous product. Repeatedly. Home Depot is not doing contractors, their employees, or DIY consumer any favors by hiding behind Scott “I do what Polluters tell me to do” Pruitt. They have to do better than that. Lowe’s listened and acted. Home Depot? We’re still waiting.