March 29, 2018 -- Environmental groups on Thursday called on retailers to stop selling products containing methylene chloride, a chemical sold by the gallon in most hardware stores that has claimed at least three lives in the last year.
“No family should lose a loved one because of deadly chemicals,” Cindy Wynne, mother of Drew Wynne, said in a prepared statement. “To this day, you can walk into Lowe’s and other home improvement retailers and buy the same product that killed Drew -- plus numerous others containing the same chemical.”
Drew Wynne was removing paint from the floor at his business in Charleston, SC, last October when he was overcome by the fumes from a chemical stripping product he bought at Lowe’s, the home improvement store, his family says.
His business partner found him dead the next day. He was 31.
Wynne’s autopsy report says he died from methylene chloride poisoning.
“I hope Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock will do the right thing and ban this dangerous product,” Cindy Wynne said.
Wynne’s family and the environmental groups also urged the EPA to move forward with a proposed methylene chloride ban.
In the body, methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide, which crowds out oxygen in the blood. If you use it without wearing specialized protective gear, it can quickly starve your heart and brain of air. Workers have passed out after as little as 5 minutes of exposure.
As WebMD reported last year, methylene chloride has been killing workers and do-it-yourselfers for decades. The European Union banned most uses of the chemical in 2011, but despite its dangers, the Environmental Protection Agency had lacked the regulatory authority to remove it from the market.
Government, Retailer Reactions
In 2016, Congress passed a new law that gave the EPA greater authority to act. The agency quickly proposed a ban on methylene chloride.
But under the Trump administration, efforts to get the chemical off the market have again stalled.
Wynne’s death was at least the third that has come to light since the EPA proposed banning the chemical. He was using the product Goof Off, according to his family.
W.M. Barr, the company that makes Goof Off, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
While Lowe’s will not commit to removing methylene chloride products, a spokeswoman said the retailer is exploring other options.
“We are actively working with our product suppliers to bring new alternatives to consumers and lead change in the industry,” spokeswoman Sarah Lively said in a statement. “We are committed to nearly doubling the number of methylene chloride alternatives available by the end of 2018.”
If it is successful, Lowe’s would offer at least seven alternative products.
Lively said the home improvement giant is also working with its vendors to “encourage improved labeling” on packaging to explain the safe and proper use of these chemicals, while highlighting the benefits of alternative products.
Also, she said, Lowes.com has safety guides and instructions for the proper use of methylene chloride.
Deaths in Tennessee, California
Kevin Hartley, a 21-year-old from Nashville, died while refinishing a bathtub in April 2017. He was using a commercial product called White Lightning Low Odor Stripper.
In June, a worker stripping a bathtub with Jasco Premium Paint & Epoxy Remover in Huntington Park, CA, died from methylene chloride poisoning. The man wasn’t wearing a respirator, according to an inspection report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration