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From Products Liability Law Daily, March 21, 2018

CPSC guidance updates policy statement on labeling household products containing methylene chloride

By Colleen Kave, J.D.

In response to a petition filed by the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) updated its 1987 policy statement regarding the labeling of certain products containing methylene chloride to address acute hazards from inhaling methylene chloride vapors, in addition to the chronic hazards addressed in the prior policy statement. The guidance document becomes applicable on March 21, 2018 (CPSC Notice83 FR 12254, March 21, 2018).

Background. In 1987, CPSC issued a Statement of Interpretation and Enforcement Policy regarding the labeling of certain household products containing methylene chloride (52 FR 34698, September 14, 1987). The 1987 statement noted that the agency considers certain household products containing methylene chloride (DCM) to be "hazardous substances" under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) that may pose a risk of carcinogenicity. The statement also identified several categories of products containing methylene chloride, including paint strippers that could expose consumers to significant amounts of methylene chloride vapor, and were thus hazardous substances. The statement advised manufacturers of the FHSA’s labeling requirements, and provided guidance for labeling those products to warn of the cancer risk from inhaling methylene chloride vapor.

Petition. The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA) petitioned CPSC in July 2016 to amend its 1987 statement to recognize the acute hazard posed by using household products containing DCM in enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation. According to the petition, when consumers use methylene chloride to strip coatings from bathtubs, they often spray or pour a bathtub stripping product into the basin of the bathtub and then brush the product onto the tub surface. Many of these stripping products contain substantial amounts of methylene chloride. Because methylene chloride is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that will evaporate quickly when sprayed, brushed, or poured, its vapors can quickly build up in small spaces. HSIA stated that DCM has a high vapor pressure, which causes vapors to collect in the bottom of a bathtub and in a consumer’s breathing zone when working in a bathtub. This situation can create dangerously high concentrations of DCM, and in some cases, replace the breathable air. HSIA asked CPSC to expand the cautionary labeling guidance so that it also warns of the threat of asphyxiation if DCM-based paint strippers are used in an enclosed space.

CPSC staff prepared a briefing package in response to the petition and submitted the package to the Commission on May 26, 2017. On June 2, 2017, the Commission voted unanimously (5–0) to grant the petition (HP 16–1) and directed CPSC staff to draft a policy statement that addresses labeling for acute hazards from inhaling methylene chloride vapors from paint strippers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a proposed rule that provides an assessment of the health hazards posed by DCM and that proposes to determine that DCM in certain products presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health. However, to date, EPA has not finalized its rulemaking. Accordingly, CPSC believes that updating its 1987 statement would provide more immediate guidance and clarity to industry and consumers regarding the acute hazards associated with using DCM-containing paint strippers while those products remain on the market. By updating the 1987 statement, the agency did not suggest that labeling would address all hazards identified by EPA in its proposed rulemaking.

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