Major retailers say they'll phase out sales of paint stripper with chemical linked to deaths

PHOTO: Pedestrians pass in front of a Home Depot Inc. store in New York, May 11, 2018.PlayMark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Three major retailers have announced that they will no longer sell paint strippers or other products containing a chemical that has been linked to dozens of accidental deaths.

Home Depot, Sherwin Williams and Lowe's all have announced that they will no longer sell products containing methylene chloride. The Centers for Disease Control has found several people have died while using products that contain the chemical to refinish bathtubs, specifically when individuals inhaled fumes that collected in the tub.

In a 2012 report, the CDC said products with methylene chloride were an "extreme hazard" for professional bathtub refinishers and do-it-yourselfers who can buy the products online or at hardware stores. The CDC confirmed that 13 deaths in 11 years were caused by inhaling fumes from those products.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been looking into the risks from methylene chloride for several years but has not finalized a rule to limit use of the chemical.

A group that has been campaigning to ban the chemical called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said at least 64 people have died from exposure to methylene chloride since 1980.

Health advocates have said the EPA has taken too long to take action on the chemical and petitioned retailers to stop selling products they believe are dangerous.

PHOTO: A Lowes hardware store is seen in New Carrollton, Md, Dec. 31, 2014. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
A Lowe's hardware store is seen in New Carrollton, Md, Dec. 31, 2014.

Home Depot announced Tuesday it will phase out products that contain methylene chloride and another chemical described as risky for pregnant women from all of its stores by the end of this year.

"We applaud The Home Depot for taking this important step that will go a long way in safeguarding its customers from these unnecessary toxic chemicals and promote safer alternatives. The time for hazardous paint strippers is over, and we urge the remaining retailers stocking these products to put their customers first and remove them from store shelves swiftly," a campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said in a statement.

Sherwin-Williams also tweeted last week that it will no longer sell paint strippers with methylene chloride by the end of the year.

Lowe's announced in May it would also phase out the products by end of 2018.

"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.

The director of an industry group that represents manufacturers of these products said the group supports banning the use of products with methylene chloride for stripping bathtubs because of the risk, but added that they are the most effective products for removing paint. Faye Graul, executive director of the Homogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, said they support continued education and labeling to ensure methylene chloride-based paint strippers can be used safely.

The EPA said in May that it will make a decision soon on whether to completely ban the chemical, as the Obama administration recommended, or impose some other rules such as warning labels.