EPA Proposes Methylene Chloride Ban

On April 20, 2023, EPA released a proposed rule under Section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) that would drastically limit the use of methylene chloride. Section 6(a) of the statute provides EPA authority to ban or restrict the manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of chemical substances that pose an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment. EPA explains that its decision is driven by concerns about the risks posed to workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and individuals in close proximity to consumer usage. The Agency stated that it is particularly concerned about adverse health effects such as neurotoxicity, liver damage, and cancer resulting from inhalation and dermal exposure to methylene chloride.

EPA’s proposed rule seeks to “rapidly phase down” the manufacturing, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride for consumer use, as well as most industrial and commercial uses. The phase down is expected to be completed within 15 months of the effective date of the final rule. EPA’s analysis indicates that alternative products with similar cost and effectiveness to methylene chloride are generally available for most of the that the Agency intends to prohibit.

According to EPA, methylene chloride poses an unreasonable health risk, without considering costs or other non-risk factors, including an unreasonable risk to potentially exposed or vulnerable subpopulations identified as relevant in the 2020 methylene chloride risk evaluation, under specific conditions of use (“COU”). (EPA defines COU as the circumstances in which a chemical substance is intended, known, or reasonably foreseen to be manufactured, processed, distributed in commerce, used, or disposed of.) To address the unreasonable risk, EPA proposes the following restrictions:

  • Prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride for all consumer use.
  • Prohibit most industrial and commercial uses of methylene chloride.
  • Enforce a workplace chemical protection program (“WCPP”) that includes inhalation exposure concentration limits, workplace exposure monitoring, and exposure controls for ten specific conditions of use of methylene chloride.
  • Require recordkeeping and downstream notification requirements for the manufacturing, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride in commerce.

The rule does provide an exemption to the prohibition on industrial uses for ten years for civilian aviation uses to prevent significant disruptions to critical infrastructure. This exemption will be subject to conditions such as compliance with the WCPP.  An exemption is also provided for emergency use of methylene chloride in support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s mission. The exemption is limited to specific critical or essential conditions when no technically and economically feasible safer alternatives are available. This exemption will also require compliance with the WCPP. It too is time-limited to ten years.

EPA clarified that all COUs of methylene chloride under TSCA (except its use in consumer paint and coating removers, which was previously addressed under TSCA Section 6) will be covered by this proposal.

Regarding the WCPP for methylene chloride, EPA’s press release states that the agency collaborated with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during the development of the proposed rule, taking into account existing OSHA requirements to ensure comprehensive worker protections. The Agency asserts that the proposed risk-based limits are based on up-to-date data and fulfill the TSCA mandate to eliminate unreasonable risks. If the rule is finalized, employers would have one year to comply with the WCPP and would be obligated to periodically monitor the workplace to ensure that workers are not exposed to methylene chloride at levels that pose an unreasonable risk.

In the Federal Register notice, EPA particularly requested comments on the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed worker protection requirements from parties that would be responsible for implementing the program. (The comment period closed on July 3.) Additionally, EPA hosted a public webinar on June 7 to present overview of the proposed regulatory action and provide an opportunity for participation in discussion on the proposed WCCP. Materials from the webinar are available on EPA’s website.