ATLANTA - The Environmental Protection Agency is facing a lawsuit tied to its recent partial ban on products containing a chemical blamed for dozens of deaths.
In February, Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr documented concerns over paint strippers containing methylene chloride, a chemical blamed in consumer and worker deaths.
In March, the agency issued a consumer ban, meaning the products should come off store shelves by this summer. It hardened a voluntary recall enacted by many major retailers at the urging of groups such as Washington D.C.-based Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families as well as affected families.
Lauren Atkins is one of the mothers who spoke to Channel 2 Action News. Her son Joshua died from exposure to methylene chloride when he used a paint stripper to restore his BMX bike.
Atkins joins Wendy Hartley, whose son recently died from the chemical exposure, in filing a lawsuit critical of the partial ban. Plaintiffs include Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
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The complaint was filed Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
“The unfortunate thing is that this administration's EPA finalized a rule that is really half a loaf,” Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, told Carr on Tuesday. “Just keeping them out of the hands of consumers is not enough."
The groups want the EPA to enact what was outlined in its original proposal two years ago: a complete ban on products.
They say a vulnerable group — workers who are charged with using the product — is not protected by training or protective gear that should be used while dealing with the chemical.
“Exposure to methylene chloride has already taken the lives of dozens of workers," Hector Sanchez Barba, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said in a release. "This is an inadmissible and criminal attack against our communities. We will continue to fight for the rights of working families so that Latino and immigrant workers, as well as all workers across our country, are granted the protections needed to keep them safe on the job."
The EPA has not responded to previous inquiries about why it scaled back its original proposal. Hitchcock told Carr she believes the chemical industry has “incredible access” to the administration.
The agency acknowledged receipt of Carr’s request for comment regarding the newly filed lawsuit.
“If dozens of confirmed deaths are not enough to get the Trump administration to protect workers from methylene chloride paint strippers, nothing short of a court order will,” said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a staff attorney at Earthjustice, which represents the Latin American labor group. “There is no law, science or policy behind the exclusion of workers from EPA’s methylene chloride rule. It is a craven and illegal giveaway to companies that want to continue to manufacture and sell deadly paint strippers.”
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