Environment & Energy Report

Millions of Workers Face Too Much Risk From Solvent: EPA (3)

Oct. 29, 2019, 3:11 PMUpdated: Oct. 29, 2019, 7:38 PM

A solvent widely used in industrial settings and found in automotive and other consumer products poses too great a risk of harming both workers and consumers, the EPA said Oct. 29.

The vast majority of ways in which the solvent, methylene chloride, is used pose an unreasonable risk of injuring people’s health, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in a draft analysis.

The people facing undue risk include millions of auto mechanics, building renovators, construction workers, industrial laborers, and an undetermined number of consumers.

The agency’s preliminary conclusions about methylene chloride, if eventually made final, would require the agency to regulate that solvent more fully than it did in a March regulation (RIN: 2070-AK07), which prohibited companies from making, importing, processing, and distributing methylene chloride in paint and coating strippers used by consumers. That rule goes into effect Nov. 22.

Additional uses of the solvent that would warrant some kind of restriction include its import; adding it to a mixture of chemicals, repackaging it, or recycling it; and many industrial and consumer applications. the EPA said.

On Dec. 3-4, the agency’s Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) will critique the draft risk evaluation, which totals 3,063 pages including supplementary agency analyses.

Comment on the EPA’s preliminary conclusion is due Dec. 30, but groups wanting the agency’s science advisers to see their comments should submit them by Nov. 26. The agency’s decision on whether and which additional restrictions need to be imposed on methylene chloride would depend on the agency final conclusion.

Initial Reactions

The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance does not agree with the EPA’s conclusions and will comment after further reviewing the agency’s analysis, said Faye Graul, executive director of the organization, which represents companies making and using methylene chloride and other solvents.

But Environmental Defense Fund lead senior scientist Richard Denison, in a blog post, said that “while it’s somewhat encouraging” that the EPA’s evaluation found many more risks than other agency chemical analyses, “we can already tell the draft falls far short of adequately describing the risks presented by methylene chloride.”

Industrial and commercial uses of methylene chloride that the EPA said posed an unreasonable risk included using it to clean equipment, as an ingredient in adhesive removers, as a propellant and blowing agent to make polyurethane, for plastic and rubber manufacturing, and for various applications in electrical equipment.

Consumer uses posing too much risk include using it to clean electronic equipment, in many car care products, as pipe insulation, and in glues used for arts and crafts.

Short-term exposure to high concentrations of the solvent through inhalation or skin contact can cause dizziness or incapacitate or kill the user, the EPA said. Longer, somewhat lower concentrations of the solvent, identified on business documents as CAS No. 75-09-2, could cause liver or lung damage, the agency said.

Methylene chloride also is likely to be carcinogenic to people, the EPA said.

High Production, Many Uses

The Dow Chemical Co., Occidental Chemical Holding Corp., Olin Corp., and Solvay Holding Inc. were among the companies that made or imported 230 million to 264 million pounds of methylene chloride annually between 2012 and 2015, the EPA said.

But it’s the commercial customers of such chemical manufacturers whose workers face the most risks or who make products that could harm consumers, EPA’s analysis said.

The agency didn’t examine other ways people could be exposed to the solvent, which is classified as a hazardous air pollutant and a hazardous waste.

(Updated with more reaction and detail throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com

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