May 29, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Hats off to Lowe’s for its decision to remove methylene-chloride (MC) containing products from its store shelves.  The home improvement giant made the announcement today. The company noted its commitment to customer safety as motivation to phase out the sale of paint removers that contain MC or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP).

Exposure to MC can be lethal within minutes if a user isn’t wearing an air supplied respirator (an air-purifying cartridge respirator is not adequate) and impermeable coveralls.  NMP is a reproductive toxin that also causes serious adverse effects to the central nervous system. The European Union and restricts the use of NMP, and banned the sale of MC-based products beginning in 2012.

Just last month, Brian Wynne was in Washington, DC to describe his family’s tragic experience involving MC.  His 31 year old brother, Drew Wynne died in October 2017 from exposure to it. Drew Wynne was using a MC-containing product—purchased at Lowe’s—to strip a floor in his South Carolina coffee shop. That same month Joshua Atkins, 31, died while using a MC-containing product to refinish a bike.

Dozens of asphyxiation deaths have been caused by MC. Occupational health researchers in California, Michigan, and elsewhere have investigated the fatalities and stepped up efforts to spread information on how lethal MC can be.
Robert Harrison, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at UC San Francisco who has investigated MC-caused deaths welcomed the home improvement chain’s announcement.
“Lowe’s has taken a very important step in protecting workers and consumers from the toxic effects of methylene chloride.  After so many preventable deaths from methylene chloride in paint strippers, Lowe’s and other retailers can play a very important part in phasing out these toxic products and promoting the use of safer alternatives.”

Harrison and colleagues with the California Department of Public Health produced an excellent 8-minute video about the dangers of MC and the availability of safer alternatives.  It features a painter who was refinishing the interior of a yacht.  He nearly became the victim of MC-asphyxiation.

The coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families launched a campaign earlier this year to pressure Lowe’s to stop selling MC paint strippers. More than 200,000 people signed a petition targeting the retailer. Mike Schade, director of the coalition’s Mind the Store campaign congratulated Lowe’s for its leadership to ban the deadly products from their shelves.

“We thank Lowe’s for being the first retailer to take action on this critical consumer and worker safety issue.  When complete, the removal of dangerous paint strippers from the shelves at Lowe’s and other stores will be a huge victory for the families who have lost loved ones to methylene chloride.”

Last month, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt was grilled by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) for failing to implement a nationwide ban on MC.  Pruitt said he was still reviewing the matter.

Mind the Store’s Schade referred to EPA’s foot dragging when he remarked on Lowe’s announcement today:

“When facing federal inaction on vital issues facing the American public—some of which are matters of life or death—retailers have a responsibility and an opportunity to do right by their customers.  Lowe’s has set the pace for the rest of the retail sector with its announcement today.  The company’s actions will also help drive the development of safer green chemistry solutions.”

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) had also been pressuring Lowe’s to pull MC-containing products from its shelves. It named the retailer in its 2018 “Dirty Dozen” report and organized a press conference featuring Brian Wynne who spoke about his brother’s preventable death.

Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH said the group is proud to be part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthier Families coalition and its efforts to prevent workers and consumers from MC-caused deaths. “We congratulate Lowe’s for listening to our concerns and taking action,” Martinez said.

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