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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Lowe’s to Phase Out 2 Toxic Chemicals Following Deaths, Petitions, EPA Inaction

Lowe’s has become the first major U.S. retailer to commit to ending the sale of two toxic chemicals in its paint removal products sold globally by the end of this year. The chemicals, methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), have been linked to more than 60 deaths in the U.S. since 1980, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose a ban in January 2017 that has yet to be finalized.

Paint removal products containing methylene chloride are currently widely available at home improvement stores and other retailers, despite that the chemical’s fumes can build up and kill on the spot. Under a strengthened Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the EPA proposed a ban on methylene chloride at the tail end of the Obama administration, citing the products’ unreasonable risks to human health. Unfortunately, the agency has dragged out the process under pressure from the chemical industry and amid other deregulatory decisions by the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Since the beginning of 2017, at least four deaths have been linked to these paint strippers.

“Methylene chloride is a toxic chemical that can quickly build up to dangerous levels in work spaces,” explained Veena Singla, Ph.D., Associate Director of Science & Policy at the University of California San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. “It can cause rapid unconsciousness and death and has killed far too many people already. These tragedies are preventable.”

In June 2017, the EPA announced that it would not re-evaluate the paint stripping uses of methylene chloride. In October, Cindy and Hal Wynne lost their 31-year-old son Drew Wynne after he inhaled the chemical while using a paint stripper he bought at Lowe’s to refinish a floor. The grieving parents, shocked to learn that the product had been linked to other deaths and cancer, teamed up with health advocates to increase pressure on retailers given the EPA’s inaction. Together with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), they launched an online petition targeting Lowe’s earlier this year that has attracted over 65,000 signatures. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families claims that over 200,000 consumers have signed petitions demanding action from the EPA and retailers.

“DIY shouldn’t spell danger,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, with the release of the Wynnes’ petition. “Methylene chloride-based paint strippers have already been banned in Europe, but can be found at home improvement stores across America. How many more people have to die before retailers like Lowe’s take action?”

Methylene chloride has been banned in paint strippers in the E.U. since 2012, and in February 2018 the European chemicals agency proposed adding NMP to the REACH “authorization” list, which could lead to a ban.

As media attention and pressure grew, the EPA reversed its decision in a vague statement on May 10, 2018, saying it “intends to finalize the methylene chloride rulemaking.” It remains unclear whether this will include a ban on retail sales, leaving both the industry and consumers unsure of what exactly the EPA intends to do or how quickly it will act.

Yesterday, Lowe’s announced that it will take action and phase out paint removal products with methylene chloride and NMP from its shelves globally by the end of 2018. The company has several paint remover alternatives without those chemicals and plans to add more options by year-end.

“We care deeply about the health and safety of our customers, and great progress is being made in the development of safer and more effective alternatives,” said Mike McDermott, Lowe’s chief customer officer. “As a home improvement leader, we recognize the need for viable paint removal products and remain committed to working closely with suppliers to further innovate in this category.”

Lowe’s plans to continue to work with its vendors to encourage labeling improvements to better communicate the proper use of chemicals and product safety guides, multi-stakeholder collaborative the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3) to scale more sustainable chemical options, and the EPA to implement a consistent regulatory standard across the industry.

In response to Lowe’s announcement, Schade congratulated the retailer for its leadership and called it a victory for the families who have lost loved ones and the advocates who signed petitions.

“We thank Lowe’s for being the first retailer to take action on this critical consumer and worker safety issue,” he said. “It shows the power of both consumers and retailers to drive dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace. 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.

“We now urge other top retailers like The Home Depot, Walmart and Menards to join Lowe’s in banning these dangerous products. If Lowe’s can commit to end the sale of these toxic products, so can its competitors.”