Last reviewed 4 April 2012
Desmond Waight looks at the background and issues surrounding the restriction of dichloromethane in paint strippers.
In the early noughties, the European Commission considered the use of vapour retardants in reducing risks to human health arising from paint strippers containing dichloromethane (DCM).
DCM is not one of the most dangerous chemicals, for instance, it is not a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) as covered by Article 57 of Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 (REACH). However, DCM is classified as a CLP carcinogen category 2, and is volatile and therefore easily released into the air, especially during non-contained applications such as paint stripping.
Accordingly, after several studies had shown that risk reduction measures were required throughout the community to reduce the risks to human health from DCM in paint strippers, in 2009 the Commission adopted a Decision (Decision No. 455/2009/EC) to amend the 76/769/EEC Restriction on Marketing and Use Directive (RMUD) to restrict the use of DCM in paint strippers.
But before this decision became applicable, all the RMUD provisions were revoked and replaced by Annex XVII of REACH. However, the initial version of REACH Annex XVII did not include, due to timing issues, the DCM restrictions. Commission Regulation (EU) No. 276/2010 was later adopted, bringing in this restriction.
Since 6 December 2010 formulators of paint strippers have been prohibited from placing on the market, whether to the general public or to “professionals”, such products if they contain DCM at 0.1%, or greater, by weight.
Use by “professionals” of paint strippers containing DCM is banned with effect from 6 June 2012.
However, noting that in certain circumstances DCM-based paint strippers can be used safely, and are particularly useful for the removal of lead-based paints (which are still found on painted surfaces on buildings and other objects), the UK negotiated a conditional derogation from this ban on professional use.
Despite this, to take advantage of this derogation, Member States must pass national legislation to allow the placing on the market of such products and for the use to be restricted for certain activities only, and by specifically trained “professionals”. This legislation has to be notified to the Commission.
However, DCM-based paint strippers can continue to be supplied for use in industrial installations, subject to compliance with the following conditions:
effective ventilation in all processing areas
measures to minimise evaporation from strip tanks
measures for the safe handling of DCM in strip tanks
use of suitable protective gloves, safety goggles, and protective clothing (compliant with Directive 89/686/EEC)
use of appropriate respiratory protective equipment where compliance with relevant occupational exposure limits cannot be otherwise achieved
adequate information, instruction and training for operators in the use of such equipment.
DCM paint strippers supplied for industrial use must also be “visibly, legibly and indelibly marked” with the text Restricted to industrial use and to professionals approved in certain EU Member States — verify where use is allowed.
UK progress on implementing the derogation
Although the wording of the derogation has been known since before June 2009, it was not until August 2011 that a paper (HSE/11/53) was put before the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Board to seek approval to prepare the necessary consultative document.
Annex 3 of this paper set out an implementation plan with the aim of getting the necessary measures in place, at least in respect of Great Britain, by 1 June 2012, the date on which the prohibition comes into force.
This plan shows that consultation on the proposals would need to have commenced on 5 December 2011 and closed on 27 January 2012. However this necessary consultation stage has not yet commenced, and the HSE is not giving any date as to when this will occur. However, they have confirmed to Croner that the British take-up of the derogation cannot now occur, if at all, until after the 1 June date when the professional use is no longer permitted.