WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday new limits on a lethal chemical found in paint stripping products that has been linked to more than 50 deaths since the 1980s.
Chemical safety activists called the plan a significant scaling-back of the full ban that the Obama administration had proposed. In 2017 the Obama administration concluded the chemical represented an “unreasonable risk” and moved to ban it from commercial as well as consumer use.
The E.P.A. rule prohibits the consumer use of products containing methylene chloride, but does not ban it for commercial use. It separately proposes a training and certification program for workers who use the chemical commercially.
The families of three men who died from exposure after working with paint strippers containing methylene chloride met in early 2018 with Scott Pruitt, then the administrator of the E.P.A. Among them was Brian Wynne, the brother of Drew Wynne, who died after stripping paint from the floor of his coffee company in Charleston, S.C.
Shortly after that meeting, the agency vowed to take action.
Lindsay McCormick, who manages the chemicals and health program at the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group, said that, while the chemical is a threat to people who use paint thinners in their homes, the majority of deaths associated with methylene chloride have been work-related.
She called the E.P.A. decision “a step in the right direction,” while adding, “I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this is only addressing a portion of the population, and we really need to protect all Americans.”
A spokeswoman for the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, an industry group, declined to comment until the proposed rule was formally published.
The E.P.A. move comes after two groups representing workers and environmental groups sued the E.P.A., accusing it of unreasonably delaying the ban. In May, Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer, announced that it would voluntarily remove from its shelves paint stripping products that contained the chemical.
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