South Carolina’s two U.S. senators and one of its congressmen are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop delaying a decision to largely ban a toxic chemical in paint removers — calling the proposal an “urgent matter” after the death of a constituent last year.
The letter, sent to the EPA last week and made public today by consumer advocacy groups, was signed by U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, all Republicans. The lawmakers expressed alarm that more than 50 people have died since the 1980s while using the chemical methylene chloride, a fact uncovered by the Center for Public Integrity in a 2015 investigation.
More have died in the two-and-a-half years since then, including Drew Wynne, 31, a small business owner in Charleston, S.C.
“Given the apparent danger of this chemical, we urge the [EPA] Secretary to immediately and fully address the already identified risks of methylene chloride … and prevent any further harm from coming to the American public,” the three members of Congress said in the letter.
In an email to the Center for Public Integrity, the EPA said it would “respond to the letter through appropriate channels.” The agency did not comment further.
The EPA spent years delving into the hazards of methylene chloride to determine whether restrictions were necessary. In mid-January 2017 — in the final days of the Obama administration — the agency proposed to ban sales of methylene chloride paint strippers to consumers and most other users.
But in December, while promoting its deregulatory efforts, the Trump administration EPA downgraded the would-be ban from “Proposed Rule” to “Long-term Action.” The agency said in an emailed statement to the Center for Public Integrity that officials “felt that more time was needed to consider how best to analyze and address any risks from these chemicals.”
EPA officials did not answer questions about how long this work would take or whether the agency still intended to finalize the proposal. The European Union, by contrast, pulled methylene chloride paint strippers from general use in 2011.