With any polymeric material, chemical exposure may have one or more different effects. Some chemicals act as plasticizers, changing the polymer from one that is hard, stiff, and brittle to one which is softer, more flexible, and sometimes tougher. Often these chemicals can dissolve the polymer if they are present in large enough quantity and if the polymer is not crosslinked. Other chemicals can induce environmental stress cracking (ESC), an effect in which brittle fracture of a polymer will occur at a level of stress well below that required to cause failure in the absence of the ESC reagent. Finally, there are some chemicals that cause actual degradation of the polymer, breaking the macromolecular chains, reducing molecular weight, and diminishing polymer properties as a result. This article examines each of these effects. The discussion also covers the effects of surface embrittlement and temperature on polymer performance.
Donald E. Duvall, Effect of Environment on the Performance of Plastics, Characterization and Failure Analysis of Plastics, Vol 11B, ASM Handbook, Edited By Todd J. Menna, ASM International, 2022, p 199–204, https://doi.org/10.31399/asm.hb.v11B.a0006867
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