Latinos Sue EPA for Failing to Ban ‘Deadly’ Paint Stripper


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A Latino labor agency and environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week for not banning a lethal chemical used in paint removers.

Exposure to methylene chloride, the harmful substance, has caused asphyxiation and heart failure. At least 50 people have died from working with the chemical, according to Earthjustice.

The short-term side effects should concern the Latino community. Heart disease is common in Latinos (49.0% men/42.6% women), and they are less likely to receive life-saving heart devices.

Latinos also are more likely to work jobs that use these “deadly paint strippers,” according to the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement’s (LCLAA), who teamed with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the lawsuit.

“EPA’s failure to fully regulate this toxic chemical is simply unconscionable,” said Hector Sanchez Barba of LCLAA, in the press release. “We will not stand by while Latino and immigrant workers’ lives are being put in danger. We deserve as much protection as every other group and should not be exposed to a chemical we know is deadly. Methylene chloride must be banned immediately.”

Complaints Lodged Against EPA

The NRDC and Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of NRDC and LCLAA through the U.S. District Court of Southern New York.

The lawsuit charges EPA with:

  • toxic paint stripperFailure in its obligation to regulate lethal chemicals
  • Failure to follow the guidelines of Toxic Substances Control Act
  • Failure to protect people from hazardous materials, resulting in four reported deaths since 2017
  • Failure to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits “unreasonable delay” in agency action

The lawsuit’s argument is clear — The EPA is failing in its mission, “to protect human health and the environment.”

Furthermore, the agency itself said methylene chloride presented an “unreasonable risk of injury.”

“Despite explicit assurances provided to my office that EPA would finalize a ban that protected both consumer and commercial users from this dangerous chemical, the Trump EPA appears to have failed to live up to those assurances,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee, told The Washington Post.

Action You Can Take

Latinos are supportive of sweeping policy change in environmental issues.

toxic paint stripper

The NRDC is following this issue. The group continues to collect testimonials about people’s experiences with methylene chloride. Those who wish to share their story can help illustrate the need for EPA intervention.

In May 2018, over 200,000 people supported a successful NRDC petition calling on Lowe’s to remove products containing the chemical from their stores.

Corporate Responses

Since May 2018, 11 major retailers announced plans to phase out sales of products containing methylene chloride. Companies include Amazon, Walmart, Home-Depot, Lowe’s, and Sherwin-Williams.

“Our customers are our #1 priority at Sherwin-Williams, so we are eliminating methylene chloride paint strippers from our stores. We have several effective alternatives available to serve your project needs,” Sherwin-Williams tweeted in June 2018.

However, a January 2019 survey of five major U.S. retailers found that 62% of stores still sold paint strippers with methylene chloride, ChemicalWatch reports.

Also in January, the EPA did submit a ruling that would ban methylene chloride to the White House but has made no progress since.

This is the second such ruling sent to the white house on this issue.

There has been pushback on the ruling from the chemical industry, including the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance. They say understanding safety directions and proper use of these chemicals will prevent health complications.

The EPA has yet to comment on the lawsuit. The agency has not updated the status of its ruling to ban methylene chloride.

Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney at NRDC, said the delays in action are hurting the citizens the agency should protect.

“While the EPA stalls, workers and do-it-yourself painters are literally dying, and many others are at risk of harm, from exposure to these toxic paint strippers,” Rosenberg said. “Wheeler and the failing Trump EPA are hurting the public and violating the law by refusing to finalize the ban on methylene chloride.”

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America! and the Hoffman Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) program at UT Health- San Antonio. To find out if you are TILTed due to exposure to everyday foods, chemicals, or drugs, take a self-assessment or learn more about TILT.

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