Regulatory changes will have a strong effect on the adhesives and sealants industry.

While preparing for a recent conference, I had to recount the various pending and proposed regulations that impact chemicals we use in our industry. It became clear that many major chemical platforms in the adhesives and sealants industry will face significant regulatory challenges in the next several years.

Currently Affected Markets/Technologies

One technology that is currently impacted by regulatory changes is acrylic latexes. Formaldehyde is a common byproduct and trace material in much of the commercially available acrylic latex on the market today. Restrictions on formaldehyde in binders and adhesives in wood, carpeting, and other products are widely known. Recently, formaldehyde has been labeled as a known human carcinogen, and formaldehyde-free latexes have become more available as alternatives. These steps mark the likely beginning of a formaldehyde “phase-out” process.

Another technology of concern is isocyanates, which are used in urethane chemistry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a Chemical Action Plan (CAP) to gather information and determine a regulatory pathway for two isocyanates: methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI). While we can only speculate what will happen in the future, it is highly probable that levels of these isocyanates in their free form in consumer products will eventually face increased regulation and more stringent labeling requirements. Many industry experts believe this may be the “beginning of the end” for TDI in adhesives and sealants of various types (though phase-outs would take many years) and that free-MDI is also facing an end in many products.

Cyclosiloxanes are also coming under scrutiny. Environment Canada is looking to begin monitoring programs, and it is known that the EPA will soon institute a CAP on these as well. According to Environment Canada, sealants are one of several categories of consumer products, including personal care products or dry cleaning operations products, that are significant sources of cyclosiloxanes in the environment. Because these common goods have such a high degree of consumer exposure, regulations will likely be placed on them before other, less prevalent uses.

Phthalates, another widely used class of compounds, are also under close examination. The EPA announced a CAP last year on eight phthalates and began work this summer on a full alternatives assessment program of these materials in a host of applications. While clear scientific data regarding health concerns is available for some phthalates, all phthalates have been generally lumped together as “bad actors.” Three in particular (benzyl butyl phthalate, dioctyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate) will be all but banned in Europe under REACH by the middle of the decade due to extreme regulatory burden being placed on their use. Testing, labeling and registration requirements have become prohibitively expensive for companies wishing to sell products with these phthalates in them. The EPA is taking note of events in Europe. But how long will these three phthalates remain commercially viable in the U.S. remains to be seen until the CAP is worked through.

Last, but certainly not least, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been and will continue to be a major regulatory concern for every industry, including sealants and adhesives. The EPA will be examining VOC regulations in the future-certainly under the guise of ozone control, but also potentially as they indirectly contribute to greenhouse gases. The State of California and the air districts therein have examined consumer and architectural products for many years, and changes to the California Air Resource Board (CARB) consumer product rule are presently taking place. However, VOC regulation is evolving into volatile organic emissions (VOE). CARB has stated that the best measure for indoor air quality is VOE, and VOE is referenced in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program (LEED), the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), the Living Building Challenge, and The California High Performing Schools Program. Sooner or later, VOE will be required reporting for all of the products in the adhesives industry (where it is already somewhat common), as well as the sealants sector.

Potential Issues

In the future, what other daily-use chemicals and ingredients have the potential to become regulatory targets? Catalysts, especially those that are organotin based, are likely candidates. Many products already have restrictive labeling requirements in Europe when elemental tin is present above 0.1%. There is no reason to believe this will not become a practice here in the U.S.

Asphalt is another concern, with trace materials, such as anthracene, also becoming potential targets. Asphalt is an important chemical in some sealants (especially highway), adhesive backings for all manner of products, and many other products in the construction chemicals industry. Certain HCFC propellants in foams are currently facing phase-out in Europe-not because of the ozone layer issues of the past faced with CFC’s, but due to their global warming potential. Even xylene, a basic solvent in much of our industry, is facing a potential regulation that could restrict its use and importation.

While this list does not mention every chemical under regulatory concern (or even all possible scenarios of regulation), one thing is clear: our industry is facing a change in the chemicals we use unlike anything we have seen before. Only time will tell what will happen for certain.