ACOEM Responds to EPA Proposed Rule on Use of Methylene Chloride-Containing Paint Removal Products By Commercial Entities

May 28, 2019
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Docket Center
Mail Code 28221T
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
Re: Methylene Chloride: Commercial Paint and Coating Removal Training, Certification, and Limited Access Program
Docket # EPA-HQ-OPPT-2018-0844
To Whom It May Concern:
The following comments are submitted by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) in response to the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for use of methylene chloride-containing paint removal products by commercial entities.
ACOEM is the premier national medical association representing more than 4,000 occupational and environmental medicine physicians and other related health professionals who champion the health of workers, the safety of workplaces, and the quality of the environment.
We have thoroughly reviewed the ANPRM. It is our opinion, based on our expertise, experience, and review of the scientific literature, that training, certification and limited access of methylene chloride-containing products for commercial use will not provide enough safeguards to workers, and would present an unreasonable risk of serious illness and death. Below we explain our rationale for this opinion. We submit these comments and opinions in response to the following questions asked by the agency in the ANPRM.
  1. Is a training, certification, and limited access program an appropriate method for reducing any unreasonable risks that EPA could potentially find to be presented by commercial paint and coating removal with methylene chloride?
  2. Would such a program address any such unreasonable risks such that those risks are no longer unreasonable?
  3. Should EPA consider requirements other than a training, certification, and limited access program for commercial uses of methylene chloride in paint and coating removal?
Methylene chloride (MC), also termed dichloromethane (DCM), is a highly volatile solvent, is heavier than air, and will accumulate in any container, such as tanks, mixing vessels and bathtubs. MC is easily absorbed through both the skin and lungs. MC travels throughout the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier. A portion of MC is metabolized to carbon monoxide. Health effects include “narcosis” with symptoms of headache, lightheadedness and nausea. As exposure levels increase, MC will depress respirations, resulting in unconsciousness and ultimately death (ATSDR, 2000; ATSDR, 2010). With chronic exposure, MC has been deemed a probable carcinogen by both the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (EPA, 2011; IARC, 2017).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgated an expanded health standard (29 CFR 1910.1052) in 1997 to protect workers from the toxic effects of MC.  In addition to setting a permissible exposure limit (25 ppm), action level (12.5 ppm), and short-term exposure level (125 ppm), the standard requires periodic air monitoring, personal protective equipment, including respirators, worker training, and medical surveillance, among other requirements. In February of 2010, OSHA published a regulatory review or “look back” at this standard, and concluded that there is continuing need for the standard “in light of ongoing hazards and fatalities”. OSHA enforcement identified nine fatalities since the standard was enacted. Between 2000 and 2006, OSHA recorded 7,220 violations of the MC standard during 1,046 inspections among close to 300 different industries. The most commonly cited violations were lack of exposure monitoring, lack of worker training, and no personal protective equipment for workers exposed to MC (OSHA, 2010). Thus, OSHA’s standard requiring worker training has neither ensured that employers will train workers on MC hazards nor prevented worker deaths. EPA has provided no proof that their proposed training and certification requirements will be any more effective.
Occupational deaths due to MC exposure have been reported in the literature as far back as the late 1970’s. Deaths have occurred in a variety of job settings, including working in tanks, stripping furniture, and cleaning equipment in dip tanks (ATSDR, 2000; ATSDR, 2010; Leikin et. al., 1990; MacIsaac et. al., 2013; Winek et. al, 1981). In 2012, a series of thirteen bathtub refinisher fatalities from 2000-2011 was reported (Chester et. al., 2012). These workers were found dead, slumped over bathtubs, while working alone in small, poorly ventilated bathrooms. They died of acute exposure to high levels of MC. The MC exposure level in one case was calculated to be 637 to 1,062 ppm in the bathroom and 11,618 to 19,364 ppm in the bathtub, 5-9 times the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) level of 2,300 ppm for MC. The authors concluded that “safe use of a methylene chloride stripping agent in a small bathroom is unlikely,” and recommended alternative stripping methods or products.
After this report, NIOSH and OSHA produced a Hazard Alert, and several states also produced state-wide alerts (OSHA-NIOSH, 2013; CA DPH; MA FACE; MI FACE; Iowa FACE; WA LNI). All these alerts recommend substituting less hazardous stripping products or using other, non-chemical stripping techniques. However, deaths from MC-containing paint stripping products have continued. In one recent case, a bathtub refinisher received training by the paint stripping product manufacturer on use of the MC-containing product. The employer understood that the training included safe work practices, but this training was not adequate to save the life of this bathtub refinisher (2017 case). Tragically, this case and others have occurred in small companies where the decedent was a close relative of the employer and/or co-workers.
Small employers or self-employed workers are particularly vulnerable, as they cannot afford the required elements to meet the OSHA MC standard and make the working conditions safe. These employers would need to hire industrial hygienists to do air monitoring, pay for annual medical surveillance exams for their employees, and provide expensive protective equipment, including MC-resistant gloves and clothing, eye protection, and full-face, atmosphere-supplying respirators. They would need to buy portable local ventilation that must be set up and taken down for each job. And they would need to do air monitoring to ensure that the ventilation system is effective for the job settings. There is a lack of quality studies demonstrating that portable local ventilation would bring the exposure levels down below OSHA’s permissible exposure limit.
Underlying medical conditions of workers in these settings also make them more vulnerable. The recent report of the 13 bathtub refinisher deaths noted that eight of the 13 had underlying cardiac disease, which may have made them more vulnerable to MC’s toxic effects (Chester, 2012). MC and its metabolite, carbon monoxide, can cause cardiac arrhythmias.
EPA’s new regulation bans the manufacture, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride for consumer paint and coating removal, providing some protection for consumers. EPA should afford the same protections to workers. Per a recent presentation at the American College of Medical Toxicology, between 1980 and 2018, 72% of deaths linked to MC exposure in the U.S. were occupational, and the vast majority were due to paint removal products (Hoang et. al., 2019).
Both chemical and non-chemical alternatives are available for paint and coating stripping jobs (Morose et. al, 2017; NIOSH, 2013; CA DPH; WA LNI). Alternatives include safer chemicals, such as benzyl alcohol, dibasic esters, and soy-based products. Caustic solutions and non-MC-containing solvent mixes are also available. Non-chemical approaches, such as scraping and sanding off paints and coatings, is also used by some commercial employers. These alternatives have their own hazards, and safe work practices must be followed. However, none of these alternatives are as acutely hazardous or as likely to result in acute death as MC.
EPA cites the United Kingdom’s training and certification program, which was created to comply with the European Union (EU) restriction on commercial and professional use of MC under the EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) program. However, what EPA fails to note is that the REACH MC ban specifically recommends that “Employers and self-employed workers shall preferably replace dichloromethane [MC] with a chemical agent or process which, under its conditions of use, presents no risk, or a lower risk, to the health and safety of workers.” (REACH, 2012)
In summary, ACOEM urges EPA to ban MC for commercial use, as it has for consumer use. A training, certification, and limited access program is will not reduce unreasonable risks to workers using methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removal products.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please do not hesitate to contact Patrick O’Connor, ACOEM’s Director of Government Affairs at 703-351-6222 with any questions.


Stephen A. Frangos, MD, MPH, FACOEM

[2017 case] OSHA inspection #1229753, accessed at: and Newspaper article about this case: questions-use-of-chemical-after-sons-death
[ATSDR, 2000] Toxicological Profile for Methylene Chloride. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources. Accessed at:
[ATSDR, 2010] Addendum to the Toxicological Profile for Methylene Chloride. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.
Accessed at: [CA DPH] Preventing Worker Deaths from Paint Strippers Containing Methylene Chloride. Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Public Health. Accessed at: Chester D, Rosenman KD, Grimes GR, Fagan K, Castillo DN. Fatal exposure to methylene chloride among bathtub refinishers – United States, 2000-2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 2012; 61 (7):119-122.
[EPA, 2011] Dichloromethane. Integrated Risk Information System, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed at:
Hoang A, Fagan K, Harrison R, Shusterman D, Fries D, Singla V. Methylene chloride fatalities in the US from 1980-2018. Poster presentation at the American College of Medical Toxicology Scientific Meeting in San Francisco, CA, April 12-14, 2019.
[IARC, 2017] Monograph on Dichloromethane. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 110, 2017. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Accessed at: carcinogenic-risks-to-humans-6/
[IOWA FACE] Bathtub refinishing technician died from inhalation of paint stripper vapors. Iowa Fatality Assessment & Control, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Iowa, September 11, 2012. Accessed at: https://face.public-
Leikin JB, Lipscomb JW, Burda AM, Hryhorczuk DO. Methylene chloride: Report of five exposures and two deaths. Am J Emerg Med, 1990; 8:534-537.
[MA FACE] Bathtub Refinisher Dies from Exposure to Methylene Chloride. Massachusetts Fatality Assessment & Control, Occupational Health Surveillance Program, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, April 2012.
MacIsaac J, Harrison R, Krishnaswami J, McNary J, Suchard J et. al. Fatalities due to dichloromethane in paint strippers: A continuing problem. Am J Ind Med, 2013; 56:907-910. [MI FACE] Methylene Chloride causes death of three MI bathtub refinishers. Michigan Fatality Assessment & Control, Michigan State University. Accessed at:
Morose G, Marshall J, McCarthy A, Harripersaud V, Giarrosso A. Assessment of safer and effective alternatives to methylene chloride for paint stripping products. Toxic Use Reduction Institute, June 2017, TURI Report 2017-102. Accessed at: ternatives_to_Methylene_Chloride_for_Paint_Stripping_Products/Assessment_of_Alternatives_t o_Methylene_Chloride_for_Paint_Stripping
[NIOSH, 2013] Dangers of Bathtub Refinishing. NIOSH Science Blog, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 4, 2013. Accessed at: [OSHA, 1997] 29 CFR 1910.1052 - Methylene Chloride. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed at: regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.1052
[OSHA, 2010] Regulatory Review of 29 CFR 1910.1052: Methylene Chloride. Office of Evaluations and Audit Analysis, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, February 2010. Accessed at:
[OSHA-NIOSH, 2013] OSHA-NIOSH Hazard Alert - Methylene Chloride Hazards for Bathtub Refinishers. Accessed at:
[REACH, 2012] Dichloromethane. Conditions of restriction. Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals, European Chemicals Agency. Accessed at:
[WA LNI] Methylene chloride used in bathtub refinishing. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Accessed at: Winek CL, Collom WD, Esposito F. Accidental methylene chloride fatality. Forensic Sci Int, 1981; 18(2):165-8.