This is an industry alert and call to action, with the objective of raising awareness about the ‘Hidden Hazards’ of alcohol-based water-repellents (ABWRs) for glass. These hazards are either hidden by ABWR suppliers to sell more product or the risks are known in other industries but not yet to glass and glazing companies. 

Without knowledge of the dangers caused by Hidden Hazards, some suppliers will continue to conceal or downplay them. Some glass and glazing companies will fail to meet health and safety regulations. In any case, ignorance is no excuse under the law if something goes wrong. 

The Hidden Hazards of ABWRs are in three general categories: 

1. Hazards concealed or downplayed by suppliers to reduce costs and sell more; 

2. Dangers known in other industries, but not yet to many glass and glazing firms; 

3. Risks that can reduce product performance and durability. 


All ABWRs are classified as ‘hazardous to health’. Strict health and safety regulations apply, regardless of the method of application. A company is at risk if regulations are not followed, and the dangers multiply if an ABWR is atomised or misted using an air-assisted spray gun with fine nozzle or a hand-held trigger spray with fine nozzle. 

At most risk are factory workers, but also in danger are a company’s property, business reputation and financial well-being. Therefore, if safeguards and controls are not in place according to health and safety regulations, atomising/misting an ABWR should be stopped immediately. 

Examples of Hidden Hazards in each of the above categories are: 

1. Suppliers concealing or downplaying hazards to reduce costs and sell more. As a result, customers are often convinced by suppliers to overlook the following facts: 

? All ABWRs are highly flammable. They contain a very high percentage, typically about ninety percent (90%), of an alcohol with a flash point below room temperature. The alcohol is either ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol).  

? All ABWRs are potentially explosive. The hazards of fire and explosion multiply significantly when an ABWR is atomised or misted into ultra-fine particles (UFPs) using an air-assisted spray gun with fine nozzle or a hand-held trigger spray with fine nozzle.  

? All ABWRs can have intoxicating or narcotic effects. Inhalation of alcohol vapours can cause symptoms such as dizziness, drowsiness and nausea, especially when atomised or misted into UFPs. 

? All ABWRs contain a hydrophobic or water-repellent treatment such as silicone fluid or silane. Depending on the type, a hydrophobic treatment may be regulated by government agencies in some countries. It is important, therefore, for users to be aware of the type of treatment and suppliers should make this information available.  

? Some ABWR coatings contain silica (silicon dioxide or SiO2). Some suppliers claim the silica comes from quartz sand. This means crystalline silica, which is known to cause silicosis and other serious respiratory diseases. Even if an ABWR coating contains non-crystalline or amorphous silica, however, it can cause risks of respiratory diseases if atomised or misted. 


2. Hazards generally known in other industries, but not yet to many glass and glazing companies. For example: 

? Atomising or misting creates ultra-fine particles (UFPs), which are generally defined as solid particles or liquid droplets less than 10 microns in diameter. These UFPs cause the greatest risks as described in the document of the USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shown below. 

The size of particles, whether solid or liquid, is directly linked to their potential for causing respiratory and other health problems. Government agencies in several countries continue to investigate. Some agencies advise that, until more is known about the risks and dangers of UFPs, protection for workers exposed to them should be at the level used for asbestos. 

3. Suppliers concealing or downplaying issues that can reduce product performance and durability. As examples: 

? Standard application method(s). Each type of ABWR requires standard method(s) of application to perform properly and last as long as expected. For some silane-based coatings, a standard method is to manually apply the product using a pad and moderate pressure. If changed to a non-standard application method, such as atomising/misting, solid or uniform layers are unlikely to form on the surface of glass. As a result, performance and durability will suffer.  

? Limited shelf life. Silane-based ABWRs typically have a shelf life of 12 to 18 months starting on the date of manufacture and not when a product container is opened. As the product ages in an unopened container, both performance and durability diminish. The rate of decline increases after a container is opened. 

? Migration / adhesion. Ultrafine-particles (UFPs) of all ABWRs, both silicone- and silane-based, can migrate throughout a factory and remain in the atmosphere for days or weeks because they are lighter than air and are not water-soluble. 

Glass and glazing products requiring strong adhesion, such as insulating glass (IG) sealants and glazing tapes, are at risk of failure if concentrations of airborne UFPs are high or prolonged. 

? Long supply chains. Most ABWRs are sold through long supply chains of product blenders, packagers, distributors and sub-distributors where the primary manufacturer has little, if any, control over marketing or technical claims. This situation gives distributors and sub-distributors freedom to create their own claims, causing risks and dangers to glass and glazing companies and placing them in jeopardy.  

? Dependence on laboratory tests instead of actual field performance. Laboratory tests alone cannot predict performance or durability under actual field conditions. Lab tests can be used to determine if a product is fit to place on the market, but the way of proving performance and durability is under actual conditions over extended periods of time. 


The above facts about laboratory tests are verified by many independent organisations as shown in the report “Hidden Hazards of Alcohol-Based Water-Repellents”. 

Ritec prepared the Hidden Hazards report for glass and glazing companies, trade associations, trade publications, health and safety authorities, trading standards agencies, and other interested organisations. The main objectives are to help reduce hazards to glass and glazing companies and to mitigate damage to markets pioneered and developed by Ritec for more than 30 years. 

Copies of the full report are available upon request to customerservices@ritec.co.uk. Ritec will also be pleased to receive comments or questions. 17 October 2014

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