EPA Issues Rule to Protect Consumers, Workers from Toxic Chemicals Used in Electronics

N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) is a toxic solvent that may pose serious side effects, leading regulators to indicate it will be banned from uses where safer alternatives are available, or there is no way to prevent excessive exposure.

Federal regulators are putting new rules in place to prevent unnecessary exposure to N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP); a toxic solvent chemical used to produce many electronics, polymers, agricultural chemicals and petrochemical products, which has been linked to serious health effects.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the proposed NMP exposure rule on June 5, indicating it will begin restricting the concentration levels of NMP used in certain consumer and commercial products. The proposed rule also includes stringent workplace health controls for many NMP applications, and would ban some uses where safer alternatives are already available.

NMP is used in the production of specialized electronics, like semiconductors and magnet wire, as well as lithium-ion batteries for various applications, including aerospace vehicles and electronic devices. Additionally, NMP has numerous other industrial, commercial, and consumer applications, such as adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, paint removers, lubricants, automotive care products, degreasers, cleaning and furniture care products.

According to the EPA, workers and consumers tend to get exposed to this chemical through direct skin contact, which is known to cause serious health risks, including miscarriages, reduced fertility, as well as damage to the liver, kidneys, immune system and nervous system.

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This proposed rule falls under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and aims to further protect consumers and workers, while also allowing NMP to continue to be used as needed.

In the proposed rule, the EPA is setting a maximum NMP concentration of 45% for consumer glues and adhesives, along with container size limits and labeling requirements that would prevent their use in commercial settings, where frequent exposure could pose health risks.

The agency has also proposed a NMP Workplace Chemical Protection Program (WCPP) to safeguard workers from NMP exposure across nearly all industrial and commercial uses. This program includes measures to prevent direct skin contact with NMP, which will go into effect one year after the rule is finalized.

The EPA anticipates that many sectors, such as semiconductor and lithium-ion battery manufacturing, already have the necessary exposure controls in place, like enclosed and automated tools and clean rooms. For other uses, such as in paints, adhesives, inks, coatings, and soldering materials, the EPA proposes specific workplace controls, including concentration limits and personal protective equipment requirements.

Additionally, the ruling calls for banning the commercial use of NMP in automotive care products, cleaning and degreasing products, metal products, and furniture care products, indicating these uses cannot be safely continued. The proposed rule also includes a ban on NMP in fertilizers and other agricultural chemical manufacturing processes due to a lack of information on their safe use.

The agency also aims to ban NMP in antifreeze, de-icing products, and lubricants, as these uses are believed to have already ceased.

The EPA plans to conduct outreach during the comment period to gather more information on industrial practices for these uses. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted for 45 days following publication in the Federal Register via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2020-0744 at www.regulations.gov.

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