Furan Compounds Group - information sheet

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Overview

  • The Government of Canada conducted a science-based evaluation, called a screening assessment, of 4 substances in the Furan Compounds Group, to address the potential for harm to Canadians and the environment.
  • Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), the risk posed by a substance is determined by considering both its hazardous properties (its potential to cause adverse human health or ecological effects) and the amount of exposure there is to people or to the environment. A substance may have hazardous properties; however, the risk to human health or to the environment may be low depending upon the level of exposure.
  • The ecological hazard and exposure potentials of these substances were classified using the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach.
  • As a result of this assessment, the substances furfuryl alcohol and tetrahydrofuran are proposed to be harmful to human health, but not to the environment. The substance phenolphthalein has human health effects of concern; however, current exposure levels are low. Therefore, phenolphthalein, as well as the substance furan, is proposed to be not harmful to human health or to the environment.

About these substances

  • This screening assessment focuses on 4 of 5 substances referred to collectively under the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) as the Furan Compounds Group (formerly referred to as the Furan and Derivatives Group). The substances addressed are furan, phenolphthalein, furfuryl alcohol, and tetrahydrofuran.
  • The other substance in the Furan Compounds Group, thiophene, tetrahydro-, 1,1-dioxide (CAS RN 1126-33-0), was determined to be of low concern to both human health and the environment, through other approaches. Conclusions for this substance are provided in the Screening Assessment for Substances Identified as Being of Low Concern based on the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances and the Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC)-based Approach for Certain Substances .
  • The Government gathers information on substances, including details on their commercial status in Canada, to support risk assessment and risk management of substances under the CMP.
  • Furan can form naturally in food when heated during food processing or cooking. It is also released to air as a component of cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and exhaust gas from diesel and gasoline engines. Furan is used as a solvent for resins and is also used in the production of agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
  • Phenolphthalein is primarily used as an acid/base indicator and in Canada it is used in colour-change glue sticks.
  • Furfuryl alcohol is used as a solvent in cleaning and paint-removal, in the manufacture of resins and plastics, and in wood stripper products available to consumers. It occurs naturally in a range of foods and may be used for food flavouring.
  • Tetrahydrofuran is used mainly as a solvent in the production of resins and plastics, as well as in the manufacture of paints and coatings, paint and varnish removers, and adhesives such as PVC cement, which are also available to consumers.

Exposure of Canadians and the environment

  • The primary source of exposure of Canadians to furan is from food. Furan was not identified in products available to consumers.
  • Some exposure to phenolphthalein is expected to occur during the use of colour-change glue stick products available to Canadians, including children. 
  • The majority of Canadians’ exposure to furfuryl alcohol is from its natural presence in food; however, ingestion of dust and the use of certain products available to consumers (wood stripper) are also sources of exposure.
  • Exposure of Canadians to tetrahydrofuran occurs primarily from indoor air and also from the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cement products available to consumers.
  • For the ecological assessment, all 4 substances were identified as having low ecological exposure potential through the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach.

Key health and ecological effects (hazard)

  • To inform the health effects characterization in this assessment, international reports of data on these substances were reviewed, including assessments by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the United States National Toxicology Program (U.S. NTP), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC).
  • For furan, the important or “critical” effects for the characterization of risk to human health are adverse effects to the liver.
  • Phenolphthalein is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and the U.S. NTP considers phenolphthalein as “reasonably anticipated” to be a carcinogen. Reproductive effects were also considered to be “critical” effects in the assessment of this substance
  • Furfuryl alcohol is classified by the U.S. EPA as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans”. Other “critical” effects considered in the assessment of this substance include adverse effects on the liver and other tissues.
  • The U.S. EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment indicates that tetrahydrofuran has “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential”. Effects on the central nervous system were also considered to be “critical” effects in this screening assessment for tetrahydrofuran.
  • For the ecological assessment, all 4 substances in this group were identified as having a low ecological hazard potential through the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach.

Risk assessment outcomes

  • Based upon a comparison of current levels to which Canadians may be exposed to furan or to phenolphthalein, and levels associated with health effects, the risk to human health from either of these 2 substances is low.
  • A comparison of levels to which Canadians may be exposed to furfuryl alcohol from inhalation while using certain wood stripper products, and levels associated with health effects, indicates that there may be a risk to human health from this substance.
  • Also, a comparison of levels to which Canadians may be exposed to tetrahydrofuran from inhalation while using PVC cement products, and levels associated with effects on the central nervous system, indicates that there may be a risk to human health from this substance.
  • Finally, the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach characterized these 4 substances as posing a low risk of harm to the environment.
  • The Government of Canada published the Draft Screening Assessment for the Furan Compounds Group on September 1, 2018. This publication has a 60-day public comment period ending on October 31, 2018.

Proposed screening assessment conclusions

  • As a result of this assessment, the Government is proposing that furan and phenolphthalein are not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
  • However, the Government is proposing that furfuryl alcohol and tetrahydrofuran are each harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
  • The Government is also proposing that all 4 of these substances are not entering the environment at levels that are harmful to the environment.

Preventive actions and reducing risk

  • The Government of Canada published the Risk Management Scope for Furfuryl Alcohol and Tetrahydrofuran on September 1, 2018. This publication has a 60-day public comment period ending on October 31, 2018.
  • If the proposed conclusions for furfuryl alcohol and tetrahydrofuran are confirmed in the final screening assessment, the Government will consider the following:
    • implementing measures to help reduce consumer exposure to furfuryl alcohol from the use of wood stripper products
    • implementing measures to help reduce consumer exposure to tetrahydrofuran in PVC solvent cement products
  • The Government intends to add furfuryl alcohol and tetrahydrofuran to Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999, also called the List of Toxic Substances.
  • Although phenolphthalein is not considered to be harmful to human health at current levels of exposure, this substance is associated with health effects of concern. There may be a risk to human health if exposures to this substance were to increase.
    • Follow-up activities to track changes in exposure and/or commercial use patterns for phenolphthalein are being considered.
    • Stakeholders are encouraged to provide any information pertaining to phenolphthalein that may help inform the choice of follow-up activity, during the 60-day public comment period on the assessment. This could include information on new or planned import, manufacture or use of the substance if not already submitted.
  • Further information and updates on risk management actions can be found in the CMP risk management actions table and the two year rolling risk management activities and consultations schedule.

Important to know

  • Some of these 4 substances can be found in products available to consumers, such as wood strippers or PVC solvent cement products. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly. Other safety tips include working outside, making sure your work area is well ventilated, and wearing protective equipment that is appropriate for the products that you are using (for example, goggles, gloves, and clothing).
  • Visit Hazardcheck for more information on chemical safety in the home.
  • Health Canada monitors furan in food and will continue to keep Canadians informed about further research in this area.
  • Health Canada does not recommend that Canadians change their dietary habits due to the presence of furan in some foods, and continues to support that Canadians consume a variety of foods from each food group outlined in Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Canadians who may be exposed to these substances in the workplace should consult with their employer and an occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws, and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
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