Can I Use nPB Alternatives in My Cleaning System?

The answer to the nPB alternatives question is, it depends on where you are using the nPB. nPB is banned in Europe and is under tight scrutiny throughout the rest of the world. nPB is a strong, affordable, versatile, nonflammable industrial solvent. nPB is a great degreaser and defluxer. But that endorsement comes with a big caveat: the cleaning system must be a modern, tight, SAFE cleaning system because nPB does have some toxicity worries.

Originally, the toxicity level for nPB (also known as “TLV”, “AEL” or “PEL”) was set at 100 parts-per-million (ppm).  Many companies used it in aerosol form for benchtop cleaning during rework and repair. Even more used it for spray degreasing precision parts.

nPB Under Scrutiny

Governmental agencies in the the 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 health reports, in 2014, an independent safety agency, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), lowered their recommended exposure rating to just 0.1 ppm. The government of Ontario, Canada became concerned about the long-term toxicity of nPB and in July 2017 the Ministry of Labour enacted new worker-safety rules which restrict the deployment of this widely-used chemicalIn the US, several government agencies recommended 10 ppm as the proper exposure limit. Separately, California adopted a 5 ppm limit.  At these exposure levels, there is no way to safely use nPB in an aerosol package. But it can still work in a modern, tight vapor degreaser in parts of the US and Canada.

On June  18, 2020, the EPA officially added nPB to its list of hazardous air pollutants. And in August 2020, the EPA published a report that states, nPB “presents unreasonable risk to human health”.  In July 2020, nPB was sunset in Europe. Or in other words, it is banned  for use throughout Europe in production cleaning. 

Canada, already allowing just 0.1 ppm is considering further bans by the end of 2020. nPB use in the US remains unknown for now. However, there are several states considering limiting or banning its use altogether. Many experts agree that a complete ban of nPB in the United States might happen in 2021 or 2022.

Better nPB Alternatives

Fortunately there are new and highly viable alternatives to nPB that work as well and are far safer. Companies are developing and commercializing non-toxic, environmentally-acceptable cleaning options that out-perform nPB. 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. Some of latest entries  in the race are the  HFO cleaning fluids, 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 still use it, depending on your location; but it’s getting close to the time to make a change. It is important to act now – do your research and find suitable nPB alternatives.