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Michigan health experts urge Lowe's to pull dangerous paint strippers from shelves

Methylene chloride paint strippers on the shelf at Lowe's
Jeff Gearhart
Ann Arbor Ecology Center
Methylene chloride paint strippers on the shelf at Lowe's

Michigan public health experts are calling on Lowe's Home Improvement to voluntarily pull chemical paint strippers containing methylene chloride from their shelves.

The chemical has been banned in Europe since 2012, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently abandoned plans to review the chemical for federal regulation. 

Following a recent high-profile death in South Carolina, the Ann Arbor Ecology Center has renewed efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of the chemical. They are asking Lowe's and other home improvement retailers to stop selling products containing methylene chloride by circulating a petition and reaching out directly to Lowe's.

Jeff Gearhart, Research Director for the Ann Arbor Ecology Center, says that strategy has worked in the past to convince Lowe's to stop selling vinyl flooring products containing phthalate plasticizers. 

Ken Rosenman is an epidemiologist at Michigan State University whose research focuses on workplace fatalities. He says that exposure to even a small amount of methylene chloride can be dangerous.

"So you can be perfectly healthy, and take a tablespoon of this stuff, and use it, and you're dead," Rosenman said.

Cans of methylene chloride paint strippers bear a prominent warning label including phrases like "Inhalation of vapors may cause death." The cans also contain extensive safe use instructions.

However, according to Gearhart, the instructions are widely ignored, and are themselves inadequate. "You are not able to safely use these products because the precautions required to be taken, and the personal protective equipment that would be required, is just not commonly available. It would require training to remotely be able to safely use the products," says Gearhart.

Rosenman says that three people have died in Michigan since 2007 from exposure to methylene chloride. Nationwide, it is estimated that about fifty people have died from methylene chloride exposure since 1980.

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