Under pressure from environmental and consumer safety advocates, Lowe’s home improvement stores will phase out certain potentially dangerous paint strippers by the end of 2018.
The company announced Tuesday it will remove from its shelves paint removers containing methylene chloride and n-methyl-pyrrolidone, or NMP. Environmental and consumer groups, along with family members of people who have died while using products containing the compounds, have been urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for years to ban the items. When the EPA postponed taking action in December, the groups renewed their push to get stores to stop selling the strippers.
Strippers containing the compound are widely sold and popular for their speed and efficiency. Those advocating their ban had specifically targeted Lowe’s because the family of a South Carolina man who died last October from exposure to methylene chloride said he bought the product at a Lowe’s store.
According to the group Safer Chemicals, which has worked with several other national and state consumer advocacy groups, more than 200,000 people across the country have signed petitions this year asking Lowe’s to take the products off the market.
Lowe’s is the first major U.S. retailer to commit to ending the sale of the products, Safer Chemicals said Tuesday. The group said it will now urge other retailers to do the same.
"It shows the power of both consumers and retailers to drive dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace," said Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals. "When facing federal inaction on vital issues facing the American public — some of which are matters of life or death — retailers have a responsibility and an opportunity to do right by their customers. Lowe's has set the pace for the rest of the retail sector with its announcement today. The company’s actions will also help drive the development of safer green chemistry solutions."
Rachael Estes, climate and energy policy manager at the N.C. Conservation Network, said, "We applaud North Carolina-based Lowe’s for doing the right thing by phasing out products containing toxic methylene chloride and NMP by the end of the year. The decision to remove these deadly paint strippers from shelves at Lowe’s stores will save lives and set an example we hope other retailers will follow."
Lowe’s said that in addition to removing the items from its stores, it plans to work with the EPA on a regulatory standard for the industry.
"We care deeply about the health and safety of our customers, and great progress is being made in the development of safer and more effective alternatives," Mike McDermott, Lowe’s chief customer officer, said. "As a home improvement leader, we recognize the need for viable paint removal products and remain committed to working closely with suppliers to further innovate in this category."
At least 60 people have died from exposure to methylene chloride since 1980, including at least four in 2017. Also called dichloromethane, methylene chloride is an active ingredient in several Klean Strip, Goof Off and Jasco products, all made by W.M. Barr of Memphis, Tenn. The company has argued that the products are safe when used as directed and are less flammable that some other stripping compounds.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found short-term exposures to the compound can be toxic to the central nervous system, and long-term exposures can cause liver toxicity, liver cancer and lung cancer.
Some people exposed to methylene chloride in enclosed spaces have been overcome and collapsed within seconds or minutes.
NMP affects fetal development and can cause miscarriage and stillbirth. According to the EPA, more than 60,000 U.S. workers and 2 million consumers are exposed to methylene chloride and NMP annually.