nPB is a strong, affordable, versatile, nonflammable industrial solvent. nPB is a great degreaser and defluxer. However, npB does have toxicity worries. nPB is banned in Europe as of July 2020 and other countries currently have nPB under scrutiny.
In the 1990s when nPb was first introduced, the toxicity level for nPB (also known as “TLV”, “AEL” or “PEL”) was set at 100 parts-per-million (ppm). At that level, nPB could be safely used in degreasers and in aerosols. Many companies used it for benchtop cleaning during rework and repair, and even more used it for spray degreasing precision parts.
But now nPB (also called “normal propyl bromide”) has toxicity worries. Governmental agencies in the the Europe, U.S., Canada and elsewhere around the world have been moving to restrict its use. Recent health studies have found nPB damages the nervous system, alters human DNA, impairs fertility and there is a risk of cancer.
Based on these reports, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) listed nPB as a ‘Substance of Very High Concern’ in December 2012 and nPB is banned in Europe as an industrial cleaner as of July, 2020.
The government of Ontario, Canada, also concerned about the long-term toxicity of nPB, enacted new worker-safety rules which restrict the deployment of this widely-used chemical in July 2017.
In the Unites Sates, several government agencies recommended 10 ppm as the proper exposure limit. Separately, California adopted a 5 ppm limit and an independent safety agency. In 2014, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), lowered their recommended exposure rating to just 0.1 ppm. In 2020 the EPA announced nPB presents an unreasonable risk to human health when used as a cleaner inside all vapor degreasers including open-top, in-line and closed-loop models.
Today there are new and highly viable alternatives that work as well and are far safer. Companies are developing and commercializing non-toxic, environmentally-acceptable cleaning options that out-perform older fluids. Modern, non-flammable solvent cleaning can make a substantial enhancement to the performance, reliability and longevity of electronic devices. There also are now products on the market which have all the desired chemical traits — such as low viscosity, low surface tension and high Kb values — which allow them to deflux and degrease very effectively. The latest entries in the race are the new “HFO” solvents, available from a number of providers. These clean very well, are safe for people and have exceptional environmental characteristics as well.
Not only do these new products work better, but they stand up to the evolving regulatory requirements imposed by the long list of governing bodies around the world. Formulations are now cleaner, greener and safer.
The future for nPB is no longer in doubt. You can use it for now. But it’s getting close to the time to make a change. Most experts agree, the nPB phaseout is definite and can be as soon as 2023. Plan your transition to safer vapor degreasing fluid now.