April 27, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was in the spotlight today, appearing before two congressional committees (here, here). Republicans praised him for “the direction he has taken the agency,” with one saying he “welcomed the changes from past practices at EPA.”  These remarks reflect the lawmakers’ support for Pruitt’s actions to rollback the protections under the Clean Water Act (i.e., Waters of the US rule), the Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among others.

While some Democrats grilled Pruitt about his $43,000 sound-proof phone booth, big pay raises for personal aides, and his $50 per night apartment provided by a lobbyist, Frank Pallone (D-NJ) hammered Pruitt about methylene chloride (MC). The highly hazardous solvent can cause sudden death and is also a carcinogen.  In just the last six months, we know of two men who died from MC exposure.  Drew Wynne, 31, was asphyxiated by the fumes while using it in South Carolina to strip a floor, and Joshua Atkins, 31, died while using it to refinish a bike. I’ve written previously about the near death experience of another man who was using it, and our late colleague Lizzie Grossman also wrote about the dangerous chemical and the available safer substitutes.

Amendments made in 2016 to the Toxic Substances Control Act give EPA authority to ban compounds that pose “an unreasonable risk to health or the environment.”  Obama’s EPA proposed banning the chemical, but Pruitt’s EPA delayed that plan and is now slow walking it. Pallone hammered Pruitt for failing to ban MC.  Here’s the exchange [at 00:54:32] between the Congressman and the Administrator:

Pallone: Yes or no, were you involved in the decision to abandon that rulemaking…?

Pruitt: The rulemaking has not been abandoned… [cut off by Pallone.]

Pallone: That’s not accurate.  Do you know if manufacturers of methylene chloride paint strippers have been made aware of deaths linked to it for more than 28 years, but continue to produce it? Yes or no?

Pruitt: That’s actually a solvent that we’re considering…. [cut off by Pallone.]

Pallone: You obviously don’t want to admit what it does.  Despite all of your scandals, the White House says that you have the President’s support because you are implementing his deregulatory agenda, but I think that agenda has real costs.  In October 2017, right before EPA abandoned the rulemaking, Drew Wynne, a 31 year old small business owner in South Carolina, died while using methylene chloride. Drew’s brother is here today and I want to thank him for traveling here from South Carolina and continuing to advocate for a ban on this deadly chemical. Were you or others at EPA aware of Drew Wynne’s death when the agency abandoned the ban of this deadly chemical? Yes or no, were you aware of his death?

Pruitt: I think it is important for you Congressman to know that we have a proposed ban that is being considered. We haven’t finished that process….

Pallone: Obviously you are not going to admit whether you knew about Drew’s death.  Unfortunately in February, another 31 year old man, Joshua Atkins died using a methylene chloride paint stripper to refinish his bike. I learned about Joshua from his mother Laura, who sent me a deeply touching letter. She states that she hopes that her son will be the last to die from this chemical.  Again Mr. Pruitt, your deregulatory agenda costs lives. Real people with names, with mothers, with brothers. You have the power to finalize the ban on methylene chloride right now and prevent more deaths but you haven’t done it. Do you have anything to say to these families?

Pruitt: Congressman, as I was trying to indicate earlier, there is a proposed ban in place that we took comment on that we are reviewing presently. There’s been no decision at this time.

Pallone: Obviously you have nothing to say to these families. Look, you say you are going to do something but these chemicals are still on these shelves.  They make a mockery of the Lautenberg’s TSCA Reform legislation that this committee worked so hard on, including our chairman, Mr. Shimkus. It makes a mockery of the EPA. You have the power immediately to get this chemical off the shelves and you are not doing it and you should do it.

It was a “bittersweet” moment to hear the Pallone-Pruitt exchange, said Brian Wynne when I spoke to him today. He is the brother of Drew Wynne, the deceased man mentioned by Pallone.

Brian told me it’s important for Drew’s name—and those of the others who died from MC—-to be known to the public. “Pruitt now has those names on his desk. We intend to hold him accountable. EPA can no longer kick the can down the road,” he added.  “We are motivated and energized.”

As much as Pallone was indignant at Pruitt’s actions, Brian Wynne is indeed motivated to see that MC is eventually banned. That can’t happen soon enough.


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