In the previous column, we began our answer to the question posed by Controlled Environments readers, “How do we address chemicals and processes that have become obsolete due to regulatory restrictions?” This month we explore the scope of restrictions, including what is meant, or not meant, by the term “banned.”
READING THE FINE PRINT?
The U.S. EPA Significant New Alternative Policy (SNAP) group can, in a sense, ban or restrict usage of a chemical at the Federal level. This is because SNAP is chartered to publish lists of acceptable, unacceptable, or conditionally acceptable substitutes for ozone depleting chemicals. These lists are rather encompassing in that even if a company were producing a product that had been barely conceived of in the early 1990s, let alone produced with ODS, they could not use a substitute deemed to be unacceptable. In other instances, the compound may be phased out of production, but usage may be acceptable. For example, a chemical may be judged unacceptable for use as a solvent or propellant in aerosols; it may be unacceptable for metal cleaning or electronics cleaning; but it may be acceptable for use in precision cleaning. Precision cleaning is not so much related to the material being cleaned as it is to product value and metrics. Even the term “usage” has to be interpreted. For HCFC 225, the term “usage” seems to be related more to production, importation, and blending than it does to usage of existing stockpiles.
It is sometimes asserted that a chemical is obsolete or “banned” because it is a VOC. This is rarely the case. In some locales, the VOC content in g/L or the vapor pressure of the cleaning agent or process agent may be regulated. Using chemicals with higher VOC levels may mandate the purchase of very well-contained, and very expensive, cleaning systems. Then, you have to weigh the risk of product liability against the cost of a wellcontained process. There may also be a facility-wide limit on the level of VOCs. If product quality is about to be compromise because the VOC “budget” is being strained, and if you are being told to make a change that you feel may compromise the product, we suggest you carefully speak up.
BAN OR RESTRICTION?
With all production chemicals that are under some sort or regulatory duress, it is not uncommon to be told “you cannot use that chemical, it is banned.” Before you invest the time and effort to change the process, investigate. Above all, consider the source. It is not unknown for a producer or distributor of a particular process chemical to assert that the competition has been banned. In many instances, the chemical has not been banned; it may simply be that other chemicals can be used more emissively. Whoever manages chemical usage in your company will therefore advocate those processes that are easier, that require less reporting.
In fact, very few chemicals are truly obsolete, that is subject to an outright usage ban. If you are told: “you can’t use that,” your immediate response should be “why?” A number of regulatory and non-regulatory reasons may be cited.
There is the issue of company policy. If “company policy” is cited as the reason, we suggest that you look into the basis of that company policy. What may seem like good stewardship (or even just good public relations) at the corporate level may lead to unacceptable defects or even to catastrophic product failure.
It is likely that, instead of “you can’t use that,” the situation is that it is more difficult and possibly more expensive to use a chemical, process fluid, or cleaning agent in a safe and relatively non-emissive manner. If there is no production or usage ban, difficulty and cost associated with using a chemical should be balanced against performance. Alternatives may have other, sometimes less apparent, costs and/or environmental constraints such as increased floorspace, higher energy use, generation of hazardous waste, increase in unacceptable product, or longer process time. In some instances, appropriate usage of a restricted chemical, including engineering controls, is the more cost effective approach.
Barbara Kanegsberg and Ed Kanegsberg, Ph.D. “The Cleaning Lady” and “The Rocket Scientist,” are independent consultants in surface quality including critical/precision cleaning, contamination control, and validation. They are editors of the expanded, updated two-volume second edition of “The Handbook for Critical Cleaning,” CRC Press. Contact BFK Solutions LLC, 310-459-3614; firstname.lastname@example.org.