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Consumer Products

Shortage of BIT, a key preservative, looms

Disruption of Chinese raw material supply poses a reformulation headache for paint makers and others

by Marc S. Reisch
September 9, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 36


The structure of o-nitrochlorobenzene.
o-Nitrochlorobenzene (left) is an essential precursor for the preservative benzisothiazolinone (right).

A shortage of a precursor almost exclusively sourced from China is threatening supplies of the widely used preservative benzisothiazolinone (BIT). Users of BIT face regulatory headaches and increased costs as they seek alternatives for the preservative, which prevents bacteria, yeast, and fungal growth in a host of consumer products, including paints, adhesives, and household cleaners.

Sounding the alert is the Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA), a trade group, which recently sent an advisory telling members that a BIT precursor, o-nitrochlorobenzene, is in short supply because of Chinese government actions. BIT makers have already told customers they won’t be able to meet demand “in the very near term,” HCPA says. Producers of BIT include Dow Chemical and Lonza.

While other industry groups are complaining about the impact the current trade dispute between China and the U.S. could have on their businesses, HCPA points out that the BIT problem is “not directly related to the current tariff challenges.” Instead, Chinese o-nitrochlorobenzene plants have been ordered to close as part of an environmental crackdown, says Steve Bennett, HCPA’s senior vice president of scientific affairs.

The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection initiated what it calls “the battle for the blue sky” last year to cut back on water and air pollution. Government authorities have shuttered thousands of factories that make energy, raw materials, and finished products, according to industry reports. The initiative has also hit producers of pharmaceutical ingredients.

In an effort to free up Chinese BIT supplies, HCPA recently sent letters to the U.S. State Department and the Department of Commerce asking them to intercede with their Chinese counterparts.

In the meantime, BIT users will have to reformulate, Bennett says. Though BIT is not easy to replace, formulators will need to readjust their preservative blends to make sure their products “perform as expected,” he says.

HCPA is also “facilitating” discussions between BIT users and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bennett adds. The agency could receive thousands of reformulation requests in a short period of time, he warns.


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