This post was co-authored by Mike Schade.
In 2018, the Natural Resources Defense Council won a wave of commitments from 11 of North America’s largest retailers to ban the sale of paint strippers containing the toxic chemicals methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP).
To see how these retailer policy commitments have been implemented, campaign staff, partner organizations and volunteers are visiting stores across the country to see whether retailers are following through to “mind the store.”
Over the last few weeks, we and our partners visited 42 locations of five major retailers’ stores, all of which had pledged to ban the sale of these harmful products by the end of 2018. We visited stores in 11 states (California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah) and the District of Columbia.
The good news:
- All 12 Lowe’s stores we surveyed no longer had methylene chloride-based paint strippers on store shelves. Four out of 12 stores did carry one NMP-based paint stripper, and when contacted, a company representative pledged to reach out to the stores to remove the products. Lowe’s staff told us that they have issued a “stop sale” for methylene chloride and NMP paint strippers, which prevents these products from ringing up at the register. The NMP-based stripper we found at four stores (Citristrip) has been reformulated to not contain NMP and the old version of the product may have the same barcode as the new one. Therefore, consumers should still read the label closely.
- Two out of the seven Sherwin-Williams stores visited were still selling methylene chloride-based paint strippers. In response to our inquiry about these products, a Sherwin-Williams spokesperson said that every store would be re-checked on January 18 to ensure all products have been removed. No stores were selling NMP-based paint strippers; the company was not selling NMP-based products this past year.
- One out of the three Kelly-Moore stores visited was still selling NMP-based paint strippers. We did not identify any methylene chloride-based paint strippers still for sale at the three stores visited. In response to our inquiry about the product containing NMP, a Kelly-Moore spokesperson told us their director of purchasing is resending a memo to all stores reminding them of the company’s commitment and to remove the products from store shelves.
The bad news:
Across the board, 62% of the stores we visited were still selling methylene chloride and/or NMP paint stripper products. We found the two other retailers whose stores we visited are still intentionally selling their remaining stock of methylene chloride and/or NMP-based paint strippers, despite their pledge to phase out the sale of toxic paint strippers by the end of 2018. This is deeply disappointing. We found:
- All 11 of The Home Depot stores visited were still selling methylene chloride-based paint strippers. Five out of 11 also sold NMP-based paint strippers. In early January, we also identified both methylene chloride and NMP paint removal products available on The Home Depot website. The company has since removed the methylene chloride products from the website, but there are still at least two NMP products available online.
- Eight out of nine AutoZone stores visited were still selling methylene chloride-based paint strippers. Only one store did not. At five of the stores, we noticed the methylene chloride products were marked for clearance at almost 70% off, which could encourage consumers to unknowingly buy these dangerous products instead of safer ones. No AutoZone stores were selling NMP-based paint strippers.
While both The Home Depot and AutoZone indicated that they have stopped purchasing new orders of methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint strippers, corporate staff for each company told us they are continuing to sell their remaining stock. This is out of sync with the public commitments these retailers have made to phase out the sale of methylene chloride and/or NMP products by the end of 2018. Selling off dangerous products, in some cases at a deep discount, is not in the best interests of their customers.
While we visited a limited number of stores for each retailer, our store visits suggest this may be a problem for some of these chains.
Mom demands action from retailers
Lauren Atkins, whose son Joshua died using Rust-Oleum Aircraft Remover, visited stores in her area. She saw the product that killed him being sold for about 70% off at the AutoZone store where he bought it. She also found products containing methylene chloride at her local Home Depot and Sherwin-Williams.
Ms. Atkins said: “For the sake of all of your customers you said you valued, and your future customers, please follow through with your commitment to remove the deadly products that contain methylene chloride and NMP from your shelves. The lives of your customers and their loved ones are depending on your commitment.”
The longer that retailers continue to sell these products, the greater chance that someone could be harmed. After all, at least four people have died from using these products, including Joshua, since the Trump Administration started dragging its feet on banning these dangerous paint strippers two years ago.
How did we get here?
In May, in response to our national campaign, Lowe’s became the first major retailer to pledge to ban the sale of toxic paint strippers.
This led to a major domino effect. In the following months, Sherwin-Williams, The Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, AutoZone, True Value, PPG, Kelly-Moore Paints, Home Hardware, and Canadian Tire all made similar commitments. These are big victories for our campaign and for public health. We applaud these retailers for stepping up and committing to ban these dangerous products. Their actions are likely saving lives.
In contrast, other retailers like Menards and Ace Hardware have failed to make public commitments to ban the products, and the EPA continues to drag its feet on banning these hazardous chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
That’s why Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Vermont PIRG, and the mothers of two young men who recently died from methylene chloride exposure have filed a lawsuit against Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the EPA for their failure to finalize a ban on the use of methylene chloride in paint strippers. NRDC has also served notice of its intent to file a lawsuit for EPA’s failure to take action required under TSCA.
EPA’s own scientists found that methylene chloride and NMP pose health risks to the public, including cancer, harm to the nervous system and to fetal development, and death. According to the EPA, more than 60,000 U.S. workers and 2 million consumers are exposed to methylene chloride and NMP annually.
Retailers must follow through on their commitments
These retailers must follow through on the commitments they made and immediately pull these dangerous products from store shelves. If they haven’t already, they should also follow Lowe’s lead and issue a “stop sale” so that consumers can’t purchase these harmful products at the register.
Over the next few months, we’ll continue to monitor these five retailers’ stores, and plan to visit other retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and True Value to see how they are implementing their policies once they come into effect. We’ll also continue to call on other retailers like Menards and Ace Hardware to join them.
This new in-store research underscores why we need federal action and enforcement by the EPA, to ensure that no toxic paint strippers remain on store shelves.
In the meantime, consumers should remain vigilant. Until these retailers’ policies are fully implemented and EPA bans these products, consumers should exercise caution when purchasing paint strippers to ensure they don’t contain these dangerous chemicals. Learn more about safer alternatives.
Sujatha Bergen is the director of health campaigns in the Health and Food Division of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This post originally appeared at the NRDC Expert Blog.