During confirmation hearings before Congress last week, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler indicated that a long-awaited EPA rule to restrict consumer and commercial uses of methylene chloride as a paint and coating remover has been delayed by the government shutdown, after being submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on December 21st. Meanwhile, on January 14th, environmental groups and the parents of two men killed after exposure to the solvent, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont seeking to compel EPA to finalize a January 2017 proposal to ban methylene chloride in most consumer and commercial paint and coating removal products.
The lawsuit is notable as the first challenge involving EPA’s new authority under 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that directs EPA to ban or restrict chemicals that present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. A 2014 EPA risk assessment found that short-term exposures to high concentrations of methylene chloride-based paint and coating strippers can be fatal. On January 19, 2017, during the last days of the Obama Administration, EPA issued a preliminary determination that the use of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal poses an unreasonable risk of injury to health. EPA also proposed prohibitions and restrictions on the manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce of methylene chloride for all consumer and most types of commercial paint and coating removal and on the use of methylene chloride in commercial paint and coating removal in specified sectors.
While EPA consistently has signaled its intent to finalize the rule, on the same day that the draft final rule was sent to OMB for review, the agency also sent for OMB review a preliminary draft rule entitled “Commercial Paint and Coating Removal Training, Certification and Limited Access Program.” While no details are available, issuance of the draft “training” rule signals that at least some of the more stringent provisions applicable to commercial uses of the solvent from the January 2017 proposal may have be relaxed in the pending final rule.
In particular, the lawsuit seeks a court order directing EPA to “perform their mandatory duty under sections 6(a) and 7 of [TSCA] to address the serious and imminent threat to human health presented by paint removal products containing methylene chloride.” Under TSCA section 6(a), EPA is directed to ban or restrict chemicals that it determines present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. The plaintiffs contend that EPA has “violated the explicit command in TSCA section 6(a) that it ‘shall’ by rule restrict a chemical determined to present an unreasonable risk of injury, applying such requirements that are ‘necessary so that the chemical substance no longer presents such risk.’” The plaintiffs also have alleged EPA failure to abide by TSCA section 7 requirements “to protect the public against ‘imminently hazardous’ chemical substances.”
The case is Vermont Public Interest Research Group et al v. Wheeler et al. (D. Vt., No. 19-00009, 1/14/19).