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Lowe’s drops paint strippers blamed in dozens of deaths


    The entrance to a Lowe’s retail home improvement and appliance store in Framingham, Mass.

WASHINGTON >> Lowe’s, the large home improvement retailer, announced today that it would no longer sell paint strippers that contain the chemicals methylene chloride and NMP, which have been blamed in dozens of accidental deaths.

The Obama administration, in its final days, concluded that the two chemicals represented “unreasonable risks” and moved to ban them for use as paint strippers. But the Environmental Protection Agency has not enacted the ban.

For now, Lowe’s says it will voluntarily remove from its shelves 19 products that contain either of the chemicals, which go by such brand names as Klean Strip, Goof Off and Jasco, many of them made by W.M. Barr in Memphis, Tennessee.

The products will be removed by the end of the year, the company said.

“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,” said Mike McDermott, Lowe’s chief customer officer.

Lowe’s is the first major retailer to take such a step, which was praised by health groups and relatives of accident victims, who have been pushing the EPA to move forward with the Obama-era proposed ban.

“Sadly the announcement is too late and I will never get my brother back,” said Brian Wynne, whose brother Drew died in October stripping paint off the floor of his coffee company in Charleston, South Carolina. “We hope that other retailers and the EPA will take swift action so that no one else is harmed or killed.”

Drew Wynne, 31, bought the paint stripper at a Lowe’s store. He had been wearing a respirator and gloves but was overcome by fumes, his brother said. The death certificate identified “toxic fumes (paint thinner/methylene, chloride/methanol) exposure” as the cause of death.

This month, the EPA announced that it was moving ahead on the proposal to ban methylene chloride. “EPA is not re-evaluating the paint stripping uses of methylene chloride and is relying on its previous risk assessments,” the agency said in a May 10 statement.

Under the proposal, methylene chloride would still be allowed in commercial furniture refinishing — in settings where companies can more carefully ensure it is used safely.

The agency has not indicated its intentions regarding NMP, also known as N-Methylpyrrolidone, a solvent found in plastics, paints, inks, enamels, electronics, industrial and consumer cleaning products, and arts and crafts materials. Its use has been associated with miscarriages and low birth weights among women exposed to the chemical.

Wynne was present in early May for a meeting at the EPA headquarters with Scott Pruitt, the agency’s head, and families of two victims of recent methylene chloride deaths.

The EPA, shortly after that meeting, said it intended to send to the White House for its review a proposed final regulation on methylene chloride, after which the agency could move to implement the ban.

Nationally, some major retailers have moved more quickly than the federal government to stop selling certain products that are considered threats to public health.

Target, for example, announced last year that it was moving by 2020 to sell baby care, household cleaning and beauty products without substances including phthalates, butyl-paraben and formaldehyde, even though there are no such bans on these substances in these products.

Lowe’s is now making its own voluntary move, after being pressed for over a year by environmental and health groups, as well as family members of victims and several online petition drives.

“This is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to bring safer, more affordable options to consumers,” a Lowe’s spokesman said today.

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