Advocates call on Wheeler EPA to end delay on proposed ban, protect Americans from toxic products

Washington, D.C. — Walmart announced today that it will phase out the use of the toxic chemicals methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint removal products it sells in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America, and on walmart.com by February 2019. The company, which is the largest retailer in the world, is the fourth major retailer to make such a commitment over the past few months, joining Lowe’s, The Home Depot, and Sherwin-Williams. Methylene chloride and NMP have been found to pose unacceptable health risks to the public, including cancer, harm to the nervous system and childhood development, and death.

Last month, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sent joint letters to Walmart and more than a dozen other retailers urging the companies to stop selling paint strippers containing methylene chloride and NMP. SCHF, NRDC, and Environmental Defence also sent a letter to Walmart Canada. Following the letters, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families launched an online petition urging Walmart to act, which was signed by more than 8,000 people. More recently the campaign launched a petition to Ace Hardware, which has been signed by over 35,000 people.

“We applaud Walmart for doing what’s right to safeguard its customers,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Walmart’s actions signal a growing trend in the retail sector—businesses are stepping up to ban harmful chemicals in the absence of federal leadership from the EPA. We hope Walmart will finish the job by banning these chemicals in their few remaining stores globally. Other top retail chains like Ace Hardware, True Value, and Menards should join them and banish these dangerous products from store shelves once and for all.“

In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a ban on paint removers that contain methylene chloride and NMP, citing the products’ unreasonable risks to human health. Deferring to the wishes of the chemical industry, the EPA shelved its proposed ban soon after Scott Pruitt was confirmed as EPA Administrator and the agency has taken no action in 19 months. In May, two days after former Administrator Pruitt met with families who have recently lost loved ones due to methylene chloride exposure, the EPA announced that it would finalize a methylene chloride rule “shortly.” However, the agency has revealed few details on its planned regulatory action, offered no timeline, and has taken no action on NMP.

“The Pruitt EPA’s failure to finalize the ban on methylene chloride was one of the agency’s many actions that demonstrated an unprecedented disregard for public health. The agency has bent over backwards to serve the interests of polluters and toxic chemical manufacturers,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of Environmental Health Strategy Center and senior advisor to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Acting Administrator Wheeler now has the opportunity to change course and live up to the EPA’s mandate to protect public health by following the lead of major retailers and finalizing the proposed ban on deadly methylene chloride and NMP.”

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign has led a national effort to persuade retailers to phase out the sale of dangerous paint strippers over the past year. Advocates sent letters to top retailers, met with companies, organized online petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of consumers, and held a national “week of action” in more than a dozen states.

Timeline of major retailer policy commitments on toxic paint strippers:

  • May 29: Lowe’s becomes the first major U.S. retailer to commit to ending sales of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and NMP globally by the end of 2018.
  • June 15: Sherwin-Williams, the nation’s largest specialty retailer of paint and paint supplies, announces it is phasing out the sale of methylene chloride paint strippers by the end of 2018 and that it will continue to keep NMP paint strippers off its shelves.
  • June 19: The Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, announces it will ban the sale of toxic paint strippers in all of its stores by the end of 2018.
  • August 20:  Walmart announces it will ban toxic paint strippers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and on walmart.com by February 2019.

Methylene chloride has been linked to more than 60 deaths nationwide since 1980 and is linked to lung and liver cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity. Since EPA proposed its ban last year, at least four people in the U.S. have died while working with methylene chloride-based paint strippers. In turn, NMP, which can be substituted for methylene chloride in paint removers, impacts fetal development and can 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.

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Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families leads a coalition of more than 450 organizations and businesses working to safeguard American families from toxic chemicals. The group’s Mind the Store campaign challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and substitute them with safer alternatives. In November 2018, the campaign will be releasing its third annual Who’s Minding the Store? report card ranking and evaluating the nation’s largest retailers on toxic chemicals.

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