Products containing the toxic chemical methylene chloride have already been linked to dozens of deaths.
The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice, and NRDC sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday for failing to ban methylene chloride, a deadly chemical found in paint strippers. “While the EPA stalls, workers and do-it-yourself painters are literally dying, and many others are at risk of harm from exposure to these toxic paint strippers,” says Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney at NRDC.
There have already been at least 60 known deaths from methylene chloride—and at least four since January 2017, when the EPA acknowledged that the chemical presents significant health risks. “Latino and immigrant workers are more likely to perform jobs that use deadly paint strippers,” says Hector Sanchez Barba, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, a plaintiff in the case. “It’s a fact that their health is at risk due to exposure to methylene chloride.”
In a matter of minutes, methylene chloride’s fumes can cause asphyxiation, heart failure, and even sudden death. Long-term exposure is linked to higher risks of cancer, liver disease, and damage to the nervous system. It also easily transfers into breast milk.
Last summer, a string of major stores in the United States and Canada—including home improvement giants Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart, as well as online retail giant Amazon—acknowledged this threat and committed to removing products containing methylene chloride from their shelves. But the EPA, despite repeated promises to do so, has failed to take action. “The Trump administration is so beholden to the chemical industry that it has chosen to leave workers and consumers in harm’s way,” says Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz. “If more than 50 coroner's reports are not enough to get EPA to ban one of the most dangerous chemicals on the market, what is?”