The answer is almost certainly, yes. It is a strong, affordable, versatile, nonflammable industrial solvent. nPB is a great degreaser and defluxer. MicroCare sells the product in large quantities. 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). 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 E.U., 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 reports, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) listed nPB as a ‘Substance of Very High Concern’ in December 2012. The government of Ontario, Canada also has become 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 chemical. Over in the US, several government agencies recommended 10 ppm as the proper exposure limit. Separately, California adopted a 5 ppm limit and an independent safety agency, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), lowered their recommended exposure rating to just 0.1 ppm. At these exposure levels, there is no way to safely use nPB in an aerosol package, but it can be used safely in a modern, tight vapor degreaser.
Plus, 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; but it’s probably getting close to the time to make a change. It is important to act now – do your research and find suitable alternatives.