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Here are a number of different types of paint strippers.

I’ve written several times in the last year or so about paint strippers that contain methylene chloride or n-methyl pyrrolidone (NMP). My first relevant article in Popular Woodworking appeared in the June, 2017 issue. I have a second coming out soon. I’ve also written twice in my blog. Find links to both posts below.

Methylene Chloride Proposed Ban: Misguided Policy

Methylene Chloride – Part 2: Some Retailers Take Certain Paint Strippers Off Their Shelves

I still appear to be alone in my opposition to what is happening with the EPA and several large store chains that sell painting supplies. Read the above articles and blog posts to hear my larger argument. To sum up, the danger of using these paint strippers has been seriously overstated.

I just came across this figure. Last year 72,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses. That’s a crisis. In contrast, on average over four decades, less than 1.5 people die each year from exposure to methylene chloride and NMP. People do stupid things. We probably can’t get to zero.

Every death is important, but I don’t see 1.5 a year as justification for removing these solvents, which everyone agrees are the most effective.

So, I continue trying to stir up some opposition. I’m not succeeding well. Just in the past several weeks, two trade magazines have appeared taking the side of the EPA and consumer groups even though their readership overwhelmingly wants to use or stock methylene-chloride strippers.

The first is a trade magazine (one that goes free to the trade) targeting paint contractors who rely on methylene-chloride strippers in their work. How did the magazine address the issue? They interviewed a company that supplies strippers based on lye and di-basic esters (DBE), which I’ve written about in Popular Woodworking. This company doesn’t manufacture strippers based on methylene chloride or NMP. So, of course, it would love to have methylene-chloride and NMP strippers disappear. What else would you expect?

The second trade magazine targets independent paint stores. The magazine interviewed two suppliers. The first also doesn’t sell methylene-chloride or NMP strippers. So what would you expect them to say? They did.

To be fair, the magazine also interviewed a company that sells all types of strippers. This company doesn’t care which strippers paint stores sell, as long as they sell theirs. The company also confirmed that methylene-chloride strippers are by far the best sellers, and that sales of these strippers have increased in independent stores, opening a path for selling additional supplies.

I did contact both magazines. We’ll see if I made any headway.

Popular Woodworking, June 2017. Caleb James’ Folding Lounge Chair – an homage to Hans Weger – is the cover story for the June issue in the first of a two-parter. Here, he shows you how to build the frame of this Danish Modern-inspired piece. Plus, we take a look a Axe Carbide turning tools, 3M deburring wheels and Buck Bros. chisels in Tool Test; Peter Follansbee shares his new shop in Arts & Mysteries; Bob Flexner comments on the EPA and regulations on paint strippers; and Daniel Clausen writes about his experience taking a beginner woodworking class in End Grain.

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  • DannyB

    Brian, Bob:
    Methylene chloride is debatable, but NMP is really not.

    It should continue. Everything else is significantly worse (for example, DMSO, a possible replacement that is unregulated in any way, causes people to perceive a garlic taste when it comes in contact with skin. Nobody yet knows why. This is sure to turn out well as we do more studies over the next 20 years …..)

    You can read the EPA’s own risk assessment of NMP (done under previous administrations, not the current one) here:

    I’ll shortcut it for you:

    TL;DR – it only has any significant effect on pregnant women subject to chronic and significant exposure with no protective gear, people subject to very high inhalation levels (IE not a concern here), and people subject to very high percent NMP (not a concern here either!).

    Reviews of literature outside of the EPA’s testing find nothing except the above.

    The LD50 (amount you’d have to eat before you’d die 50% of the time) of NMP is 8000mg/kg, which is also very high (IE not deadly)

    For reference, something like denatured alcohol has an LD50 of 3450mg/kg

    Outside of paint strippers, NMP is used in polyurethane formulations and would be fairly hard to replace there.

    We simply aren’t going to replace NMP with anything better.
    At some point, fundamental chemistry takes over. There are likely no magical polar solvents that are 100% completely and totally safe for pregnant women but can debond paint. The right answer is to stop having pregnant women inhale very large amounts of NMP 🙂

    Banning it will accomplish nothing but self-satisfaction until we discover whatever we replace it with (DMSO, DBE, etc) has roughly the same problems.

  • Brian Egras

    The reason no one is rallying is that you don’t provide any solution or support. Is there a middle-ground alternative solution to selling the product as-is or banning it altogether? I would think so, but you don’t offer that solution. Perhaps you don’t want to proffer a middle ground and just want to continue. Fine, but you don’t offer a way to rally the support. Is there a petition or an easy way to make our voices heard? Be a leader.

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