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EPA Finalizes Ban on Methylene Chloride Use

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a ban on most uses of methylene chloride (aka dichloromethane or DCM), a chemical used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications. The final rule follows EPA’s October, 2022 unreasonable risk determination which found that exposure to the solvent can lead to adverse health effects including neurotoxicity, liver effects, and cancer. Per the EPA, the final rule is intended to protect people from health risks while allowing specific uses to continue and be performed safely under a new worker protection program.

EPA’s final rule requires companies to rapidly phase down manufacturing, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride for all consumer uses and most industrial and commercial applications, including its use when performing home renovations. Consumer use will be phased out within a year, and most industrial and commercial uses will be prohibited within two years.

The EPA has not banned methylene chloride for certain “highly industrialized” applications, but rather created the requirement for a Workplace Chemical Protection Program (WCPP). These are uses for which EPA received data and other information that shows workplace safety measures to fully address risk could be achieved. These uses include:

  • Manufacturing of other chemicals including refrigerant chemicals that are important in efforts to phase out climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons
  • Production of battery separators for electric vehicles
  • Manufacturing of plastic and rubber, including polycarbonate production
  • Solvent welding

In addition, the laboratory use of methylene chloride is not subject to the ban. Per the EPA, “Laboratory settings are expected to be more conducive to the implementation of engineering controls such as fume hoods to ventilate vapors and adequately reduce overall exposure to methylene chloride consistent with the hierarchy of controls.”

Although not covered by the ban, laboratories will be subject to WCPP requirements. The WCPP is based on the OSHA Methylene Chloride Standard, but will limit occupational exposure to an Existing Chemical Exposure Limit (ECEL) of 2 parts per million (ppm) in air as an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) and 16 ppm as a 15-minute TWA short term exposure limit (EPA STEL). These limits are significantly lower than OSHA’s current 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 25 ppm and 15-minute STEL of 125 ppm. In addition, the final rule establishes an ECEL action level of 1 ppm as an 8-hour TWA. This action level is also significantly lower than OSHA’s 12.5 ppm action level.

Under the WCPP, employers must institute one or a combination of controls: elimination, substitution, engineering, work practices, and/or administrative to reduce exposure to, or below, the ECEL and EPA STEL. If these controls are not adequate, then they must be supplemented with the use of respiratory protection according to the requirements of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard.

For dermal protection, employers must require the use of gloves that are chemically resistant to methylene chloride with activity-specific training where dermal contact is possible. In addition, general training in accordance with the OSHA Methylene Chloride Standard must be provided to potentially exposed persons at the time of initial assignment to a job with potential exposure.

Other requirements of the WCPP include the establishment of demarcated regulated areas whenever a potentially exposed person’s exposure to airborne concentrations of methylene chloride exceeds, or can reasonably be expected to exceed, either the ECEL or the EPA STEL. The intent of the regulated areas is to alert potentially exposed persons to the boundaries of the area and minimize the number of employees exposed.

In addition, employers must develop and implement an Exposure Control Plan that includes identification of appropriate exposure controls, a rationale for why they were considered, and how they were implemented. A description of regulated areas and those authorized to enter them must also be defined. In addition, the WCPP must have information on how the plan is reviewed and updated to ensure its effectiveness.

Employers will have twelve to eighteen months after the publication of the rule to comply with the various requirements of the WCPP.

The final rule also clarifies that methylene chloride use for pharmaceuticals is not covered. The rule does not apply to any material excluded from the definition of “chemical substance” under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) section 3(2)(B)(ii) through (vi). Those exclusions include drugs as well as any food, food additive, cosmetic, or device, as defined in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The EPA has provided an unofficial version of the final rule. Once the official version is published in the Federal Register, this version will be removed and replaced with a link to the final rule. The EPA will also be hosting a public webinar to explain what is in the final rule and how it will be implemented. The date and time will be announced in the coming weeks.

For additional information on the methylene chloride final risk management rule and how it may affect your organization, please contact us.

This blog was written by Beth Graham, Safety Partners’ Director of Quality, Research, and Training.

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