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Industry Insights

Gelman: The EPA Final Rule on Methylene Chloride

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The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule last month significantly restricting the use of methylene chloride due to its health risks. This analysis examines the rule's impact on workers and potential workers' compensation claims.

Jon L. Gelman

Jon L. Gelman

Background

  • Methylene chloride is a hazardous chemical linked to cancer, neurotoxicity and liver damage.
  • The EPA identified unreasonable risks from exposure in various settings, including workplaces.
  • The final rule prohibits the manufacturing, processing and distributing of methylene chloride for most consumer and industrial/commercial uses.

Impact on workers

  • Reduced exposure. The ban reduces worker exposure to methylene chloride, minimizing the risk of work-related illnesses like cancer, neurological problems and liver damage. This translates to fewer workers' compensation claims for such conditions.
  • Job displacement. Jobs reliant on methylene chloride may be eliminated, particularly in paint stripping and some foam applications. This could lead to unemployment and potential retraining needs.

Workers' compensation

  • Fewer claims. The number of claims related to methylene chloride exposure should significantly decrease with reduced exposure.
  • Shifting claims. Claims might shift toward residual exposure cases for workers involved in the remaining permitted uses (e.g., lab research) or from improper handling during the phase-out period.
  • Increased scrutiny. Due to stricter regulations and the potential for employer liability, workers' compensation insurers may scrutinize claims in the remaining allowed uses more intensely.

Overall, the EPA rule is expected to positively impact worker health by minimizing exposure to methylene chloride. However, job losses and potential challenges in workers' compensation claims for residual exposure cases are possible.

Additional considerations

  • The rule's effectiveness hinges on proper enforcement to prevent misuse of remaining methylene chloride.
  • Training programs for workers in permitted uses to ensure safe handling practices are crucial.
  • Monitoring worker health in permitted uses might be necessary to identify and address lingering risks.

Conclusion

The EPA's final rule on methylene chloride prioritizes worker safety by drastically limiting exposure. While there might be some job losses and adjustments to workers' compensation claims, the long-term benefits for worker health are substantial.

Claimants' attorney Jon L. Gelman is the author of "New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law" and co-author of the national treatise "Modern Workers’ Compensation Law." He is based in Wayne, New Jersey. This blog post is republished with permission.

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