Nika Beauchamp, left, Sergio Cahueque and Patrick MacRoy protest outside the Lowe’s store in Portland on Thursday. The Learning Disabilities Association of Maine and Environmental Health Strategy Center led small protests at three Lowe’s stores on Thursday, including Auburn and Brunswick, to urge the retailer to discontinue the sale paint strippers containing methylene chloride – a potentially deadly chemical. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Environmental advocates visited three Lowe’s home improvement stores in southern Maine on Thursday as part of a nationwide effort to pressure the company to remove products that contain a toxic and even deadly chemical known as methylene chloride.

In Brunswick, Tracy Gregoire with the Learning Disabilities Center of Maine delivered a letter to the store manager asking them to pull from shelves paint strippers that contain the neurotoxic chemical that they say has caused at least 50 deaths and is linked to lung cancer through inhalation.

Tracy Gregorie stands outside the Lowe’s store in Brunswick on Thursday. She delivered a letter to the store manager asking that certain paint strippers be removed. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Another chemical that is used in similar products, called N-Methylpyrrolidone, is believed to impact fetal development and even cause miscarriage and stillbirth.

“There is no reason for any retailer to sell products containing chemicals that put babies’ brains – or people’s lives – at risk,” Gregoire said. “We are especially concerned with exposures to pregnant women and children from NMP in paint strippers. Scientific evidence from multiple studies shows that both men’s and women’s exposures to toxic solvents are linked to lasting problems with brain development, cognition and behavior in their children.”

Other advocates visited stores in Portland and Auburn with the same message. Similar events were planned in other states. And an online petition urging Lowe’s to ban sale of products with these chemicals has been signed by more than 100,000 people in the past month.

A spokesperson for Lowe’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Gregoire said other stores carry paint strippers with the chemicals in questions and argued they, too, should ban sales. She said Lowe’s was targeted specifically because of the recent death of a South Carolina man – 31-year-old Drew Wynne – who had inhaled fumes from paint stripper bought from a Lowe’s. That story was featured in a CBS Evening News segment in late March, and his family has been pushing for stricter regulations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the use and sale of products that have harmful effects, has debated methylene chloride for several years. This week, it announced its plans to move forward with action, first announced last year, that would prohibit methylene chloride use in consumer and commercial paint stripping products. It also proposes to restrict or ban N-Methylpyrrolidone.

Gregoire said environmental advocates don’t trust the EPA to act quickly on this, which is why they decided to appeal directly to businesses. She said there was a successful effort three years ago to convince Lowe’s and other retailers to stop carrying vinyl flooring that contained toxic phthalates.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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