Chris and James Welsh of Welsh & Welsh
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Why is a Fatal Chemical in Paint Remover Still Legal?

Published on Apr 10, 2018 at 1:54 pm in Product Liability.

Paint removers are used daily in the United States by homeowners, construction workers, home repairers, and other professionals. What many may not realize is that paint strippers can be lethal—and their effects can cause a person to collapse and die in a very short amount of time. According to an article on Slate, at least three people died last year when using pain strippers on bathtubs and other items.

The chemical in paint removers that’s fatal is called methylene chloride. Research suggests that methylene chloride can cause cancer and carries other long-term health risks, but the main concern is that it places users at risk for asphyxiation. Methylene chloride acts as an anesthetic at high doses, knocking users out and stopping them from breathing when the fumes are inhaled in an enclosed area. More than 50 deaths in the U.S. have been linked to the chemical since 1980.

The most dangerous point about methylene chloride—also referred to as dichloromethane—is the fact that most users don’t understand how dangerous it really is. The general public—and even a large percentage of home improvement store clerks—have no clue. Even though all paint removers come with warning labels, there’s no guarantee that anyone will read the labels—especially when they contain complex directions for safe use.

According to Dr. Robert Harrison, an occupational medicine physician at UCSF, methylene chloride is simply “too toxic to use indoors.” Despite this, the chemical is still widely available in home improvement stores nationwide and advertised for indoor use.

In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a ban against selling paint removers containing methylene chloride to consumers and most other users. Other countries like Europe, for example, have banned the chemical since 2011. Other types of paint strippers already on the market can work just as well as ones containing methylene chloride, but don’t sell as well according to U.S. manufacturers, because they don’t work as quickly.

The EPA’s ban was shelved during the Trump administration and has been shelved ever since. The EPA states that the organization needs more time to weigh the issue. Unsurprisingly, most Americans tend to be for the ban while many companies are opposed to it. Meanwhile, while the ban is shelved for an indefinite time, people continue to die from methylene chloride exposure.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group, is trying to fight back by targeting home improvement retailers. They are trying to get stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop selling paint removers containing methylene chloride in hopes of spurring action on a national level. Some states, like Maryland and California, are also taking actions into their own hands and setting up state rulings against removers that contain the dangerous chemical.

Unfortunately, politics often come into play when products that have been proven as dangerous continue to remain on the market. If you or someone you love has been injured or harmed by a product that was used as intended or you feel that there were not adequate warnings placed on the product’s labeling, you deserve peace of mind. Get in touch with the Nebraska product liability attorneys to learn how Welsh & Welsh can help you and your family recover.