Chemical Reaction

This spring, our family bought a pontoon boat, which I call the minivan of the sea. Despite being 24 years old, it is in excellent condition because the previous owners took great care of it. They always kept it covered to protect it from the elements.

Because it was so well-covered, though, any moisture in the boat caused some mildew to grow on the white upholstery. Despite my best elbow grease, I couldn’t get the stains out. So, I hopped on Amazon and ordered some marine mildew stain remover.

The cleaner worked great, and the seats look brand new. I’m glad I was working outside, however, because the stuff was pretty strong. Even though it was a windy day, I could still smell the fumes as I cleaned.

But that’s the problem with cleaning solvents – usually the more effective they are, the more dangerous they are.

Methylene chloride is a prime example. The toxic chemical, often used to refinish furniture and bathtubs, has been linked to dozens of deaths since 1980.

As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency is banning all consumer uses of methylene chloride, as well as most industrial and commercial uses. Exempted uses include those “highly industrialized and important to national security and the economy.”

According to Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the “critical” exempted uses of methylene chloride require worker protections to be in place. Such uses include refrigerants and as an alternative to other chemicals that produce greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. It also will be allowed for use in electric vehicle batteries and for critical military functions.

According to the EPA, methylene chloride is known to cause a range of cancers, as well as neurotoxicity and liver damage, while direct exposure can lead to death. The agency has reported that at least 88 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride since 1980, most of whom were refinishing bathtubs or stripping paint. The fatalities included trained workers who were equipped with personal protection equipment.

“Exposure to methylene chloride has devastated families across this country for too long, including some who saw loved ones go to work and never come home,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement. “EPA’s final action brings an end to unsafe methylene chloride practices and implements the strongest worker protections possible for the few remaining industrial uses, ensuring no one in this country is put in harm’s way by this dangerous chemical.”

The changes came about roughly a year after the EPA initially proposed the ban, and over five years after three major retailers, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams, agreed to pull products containing the chemical off their shelves by the end of 2018.

The American Chemistry Council, the industry’s top lobbying group, describes methylene chloride as “an essential compound” used to make many products and goods that Americans rely on every day, such for paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing and metal cleaning and degreasing. The Council claims that the EPA is overstating the risks of methylene chloride and that adequate protections have mitigated health risks.

One thing I remember from my high school chemistry class is that there is not always an easy solution.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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