Chemicals, EHS Administration, Regulatory Developments

Proposed Ban on Methylene Chloride

On May 3, 2023, the EPA published a proposed rule in the Federal Register banning most uses of methylene chloride.

The EPA’s authority for the proposed rule is provided under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), with methylene chloride being the second chemical to undergo risk management under the reformed process created by the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, following agency proposed actions to protect people from asbestos exposure last year.

Methylene chloride is used in a variety of ways, including consumer uses such as aerosol degreasers and brush cleaners for paints and coatings, commercial applications such as adhesives and sealants, and in industrial settings for making other chemicals. For example, methylene chloride is used as a chemical intermediate in the production of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) 32, which is used in refrigerant blends developed to replace substances with higher global warming potential.

Since 1980, there have been at least 85 cases of people who have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride, largely workers engaged in home renovation contracting work and even while fully trained and equipped with personal protective equipment, according to the EPA.

The Agency’s unreasonable risk determination for methylene chloride was driven by risks associated with workers, occupational nonusers (workers nearby but not in direct contact with this chemical), consumers, and those in close proximity to a consumer use. The EPA identified risks for adverse human health effects, including neurotoxicity, liver effects, and cancer from inhalation and dermal exposures to methylene chloride.

The proposed risk management rule would rapidly phase down manufacturing, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride for all consumer uses and most industrial and commercial uses, most of which would be fully implemented in 15 months. For most of the uses of methylene chloride the EPA is proposing to prohibit, its analysis found that alternative products with similar costs and efficacy to methylene chloride products are generally available.

“The science on methylene chloride is clear, exposure can lead to severe health impacts and even death, a reality for far too many families who have lost loved ones due to acute poisoning,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in an Agency news release. “That’s why EPA is taking action, proposing to ban most uses of this chemical and reduce exposures in all other scenarios by implementing more stringent workplace controls to protect worker health. This historic proposed ban demonstrates significant progress in our work to implement new chemical safety protections and take long-overdue actions to better protect public health.”

“For the industrial manufacturing, industrial processing, and federal uses that EPA is not proposing to prohibit, EPA is proposing a workplace chemical protection program with strict exposure limits to better protect workers,” the news release adds. “EPA has received data from industry that indicate some facilities may already be meeting the stronger proposed methylene chloride exposure limits. These proposed requirements would allow the continued processing of methylene chloride to produce chemicals that are important in efforts to reduce global warming outlined in the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act. Climate-friendly refrigerants and other chemicals play a significant role in combatting climate change and EPA’s proposed rule supports continued efforts to reduce emissions.”

Additionally, the EPA is also proposing that specific uses of methylene chloride required by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Aviation Administration could continue with strict workplace controls because sufficient reductions in exposure are possible in these highly sophisticated environments, thereby minimizing risks to workers.

“The proposed prohibitions and restrictions would also protect communities from methylene chloride exposure,” the news release continues. “EPA identified potential risks to fenceline communities from a small number of facilities using six years of Toxics Release Inventory exposure data. The prohibitions in EPA’s proposed rule would cover ongoing uses of methylene chloride at a majority of these facilities, effectively eliminating the potential risks to the neighboring communities.”

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through the Federal eRulemaking portal under Docket # EPA–HQ–OPPT–2020–0465 until July 3, 2023.

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