Dichloromethane-based paint strippers banned by EU legislation

Ned Stafford/Hamburg, Germany

European chlorinated solvent producers are criticising a European Union decision to ban the dichloromethane-based paint strippers sold to consumers and many professionals, claiming that EU officials should instead have assessed the solvent’s risks using Reach regulations.

The ban, already adopted by the European Commission, received final approval from the European Parliament on 14 January, which overwhelmingly supported the resolution (674 votes in favour, 17 against and 8 abstentions). 

However, Wolfgang Marquardt, manager of the Brussels-based European Chlorinated Solvent Association (ECSA), told Chemistry World that the industry believes dichloromethane (DCM) should have been considered within the EU’s new Reach framework for assessing chemical safety, which would have first required comparative risk assessments of alternatives before such a far-reaching ban could have been instituted across Europe. Marquardt says alternative paint stripping substances and methods, such as blow torches and sand-blasting, might be just as hazardous as DCM.

But Carl Schlyter, a Swedish member of the European Parliament who helped draft of the DCM resolution, told Chemistry World  that he and other supporters of the DCM ban specifically wanted to avoid referring the issue to the new Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), responsible for administering Reach.

The agency has been swamped with around 2 million chemical registrations, 10 times more than expected, says Schlyter, a member of the Green party. If the proposed DCM ban had been referred to ECHA, it would take ’several years’ to reach an outcome, he says, adding: ’We should ban DCM now.’

However, the legislative option of banning chemicals will no longer be open after this summer, when all proposed bans must go to ECHA for consideration, he says.

Staying solvent

’DCM is the most effective and most versatile paint stripper available,’ says Marquardt, adding that DCM-based products account for 70-90 per cent of the total paint stripper market. European DCM sales in 2007 reached 130,000 tonnes, he adds, with paint stripping the second biggest use for DCM after pharmaceutical industry applications. 

Specifically, the new EU rules will ban use of DCM-based paint strippers by consumers. The ban also applies to professional paint strippers, often small freelance teams, but will allow member nations to allow DCM use by ’specifically trained professionals under certain strict conditions,’ which would include use of proper protective gear. DCM use will still be permitted for industrial use, but regulations for protection of workers will be strengthened.

In its report, the Commission classifies DCM as carcinogenic category 3, which means ’possible carcinogenic effects’.  Marquardt says he does not dispute that DCM can be hazardous to human health, saying removing hard dried paint can be extremely difficult and an ’aggressive substance,’ such as DCM, is often necessary. However, he contends that if used with proper protective equipment by professionals, DCM is safe, adding that consumer DCM paint thinners on the market have added ’vapour retardants’ that can stop evaporation by up to 97 per cent.

According to a European Parliament spokesperson, the ban will be approved in coming weeks by the European Council of Ministers - a ’mere formality’ - and then published in the Official Journal of the EU. Sales to the public will be halted some 18 months later, followed by sales to professionals 36 months after publication.

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