DEADLY CLEANUP

Amazon banned two deadly paint strippers while the US government dithers

Moving quickly.
Moving quickly.
Image: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
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Two common types of paint stripper have caused dozens of deaths in the US, and the chemicals they contain are known to cause asphyxiation, heart failure, nervous system damage. They’ve also been linked to increased cancer risk. But the US Environmental Protection Agency still hasn’t banned them.

Instead, retailers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by pulling paint strippers containing methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone from their shelves—virtual and otherwise—after health advocacy organizations mounted a campaign to rid the marketplace of the products. They’re commonly sold under brand names like Klean Strip, Jasco, and Goof Off.

Amazon is the latest to join other retailers in banning the sale of paint strippers that include either of the two chemicals. Amazon’s directive says that suppliers must pull those products from Amazon by March 2019. Other companies that have already taken this step include Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, True Value, and Sherwin-Williams.

In the last weeks of the Obama administration, the EPA concluded that the two chemicals posed “unreasonable risks” to human health and proposed a ban them for use as paint strippers. But under the Trump administration, the EPA has not moved to enact the ban. In May, the EPA said it would move forward with the ban, but as of October, with no ban finalized, advocacy groups announced they were suing the federal agency.

Brian Wynne’s brother died in 2017 after using the chemicals to strip paint off the floor of his coffee company in Charleston, South Carolina. After Lowe’s said in May it would pull the paint strippers by the end of 2018, Wynne told the New York Times, “Sadly the announcement is too late and I will never get my brother back. We hope that other retailers and the EPA will take swift action so that no one else is harmed or killed.”

The advocacy organization Safer Chemicals Healthy Families petitioned companies like Lowe’s and Amazon to pull the paint strippers, and is among the groups suing the EPA over the delayed ban.

“We applaud Amazon for prohibiting the sale of these harmful products,” Mike Schade, of Safer Chemicals, said in a statement. “While Amazon, Lowe’s, and other retailers have stepped up, the EPA has dragged its feet and consumers have suffered. The time for EPA inaction is over. How many more people have to die before the Trump EPA finalizes this long-delayed ban?”