Parents, educators and health professionals in LDA know what it means for children and families to struggle with learning problems and emotional and behavioral challenges. That’s why LDA leaders across the country have mobilized to help get paint stripping products containing two brain-harming chemicals – methylene chloride and n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) – banned from sale.
Children whose mothers are exposed to methylene chloride or NMP during pregnancy are at higher risk for problems with brain development, learning and behavior. Studies link men’s exposure to these toxic solvents to impaired sperm quality and higher risk of babies with low birth weight, which in turn can contribute to learning and developmental disabilities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that women of childbearing age may be at greater risk of harm from these chemicals than the general population. EPA identified effects on the developing fetus as the highest concern for exposures to NMP. EPA also states that children who are in the vicinity when people are removing paint with methylene chloride can suffer impaired ability to learn.
The chemicals are also deadly. More than 60 people in the U.S. have died from using paint strippers containing methylene chloride, with at least four deaths occurring in 2017 and 2018. NMP is linked to stillbirths and miscarriage. These chemicals are not safe for DIYers or for professional contractors, and they’re certainly not safe near children or pregnant women. Expectant parents shouldn’t have to worry that the products they use to renovate a nursery could permanently harm their baby’s brain.
Beginning in 2017, LDA brought learning and developmental disabilities groups across the country together to send letters to retailers sharing our concerns with these toxic paint strippers and asking them to take action. The effort was part of the “Mind the Store” campaign led by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, of which LDA is a founding member.
LDA national and state leaders also wrote opinion articles and participated in press events to urge retailers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the chemicals. LDA was included in radio and print media coverage of this issue in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Maine.
As a result of this public campaign, which also included hundreds of thousands of people signing petitions and the involvement of families who lost a loved one to methylene chloride exposure, one major retail chain after another agreed to halt sales of the paint strippers. In 2018, Lowe’s, Sherwin-Williams, AutoZone, Kelly-Moore, and The Home Depot all publicly announced they would stop selling these dangerous products by January 1st – a win for children’s brain health. Other retailers, including Walmart and Amazon, also made commitments to stop selling these deadly products this year.
Now, LDA is leading the way in holding these companies to their word. In the last month, LDA state affiliates mobilized parents and teachers in Texas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois, California, and South Carolina to visit stores including Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Auto Zone to see if the paint strippers have been removed from shelves.
They discovered mixed results – and some concerning developments. Some stores are “selling down” their stock of the neurotoxic chemicals, even putting the products on clearance to sell them more quickly! Other retailers offer mostly safer products, but still have the poisonous paint strippers available as well. LDA advocates spoke with store managers to let them know the products should be removed from sale immediately.
In the meantime, after months of delay, EPA responded to pressure from the “Mind the Store” campaign and bereaved families by advancing a rule on methylene chloride in paint strippers to the White House Office of Management and Budget in December 2018. Unfortunately, there are indications that the ban only covers sales to non-professional consumers. It appears as though contractors and other professionals will still able to purchase the products under this version of the rule, even though workers are among those who have died from using them.
LDA advocates have started the new year with unflagging commitment to help make the world safer for children’s developing brains and bodies. LDA will continue to hold retailers and the federal government accountable until these neurotoxic products are eliminated.