The Government of Canada conducted a science-based evaluation, called a screening assessment, to address the potential for harm to Canadians and to the environment from the Gas Oils and Kerosenes Group.
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 and 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.
As a result of the draft screening assessment, the 42 individual gas oils and kerosenes substances which were prioritized for assessment are considered not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure. However, gas oils and kerosenes with aromatic contents of 20% by weight or greater may be associated with ecological effects of concern; therefore, it is proposed that gas oils and kerosenes with aromatic contents of 20% by weight or greater are harmful to the environment.
About these substances
The ecological portion of the screening assessment focuses on gas oils and kerosenes with aromatic content of 20 to 80% by weight. This includes, but is not limited to, the 42 individual gas oils and kerosene substances which were prioritized for assessment. The human health portion of the screening assessment focusses on the 42 substances that were identified as priorities for assessment.
Gas oils and kerosenes are complex combinations of hydrocarbons produced during the refining of crude oil. They are of Unknown or Variable composition, Complex reaction products or Biological materials (UVCBs) that may occur naturally in the environment or as a result of petroleum refining processes.
Gas oils and kerosenes may contain Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and the xylenes (BTEX), which are naturally-occurring components of crude oil. The presence of PAHs and BTEX in gas oils and kerosenes can be significantly reduced through refining processes. The PAHs and BTEX are considered to be the components with greatest effects of concern for human health for these substances.
Gas oils and kerosenes can also contain varying proportions of aromatic components (such as alkylated benzenes and PAHs) which contribute greatly to the ecotoxicity of these substances.
According to information gathered by the Government, Gas oils and kerosenes are produced and mainly used at refineries. They may also be transported to other petroleum or non-petroleum facilities for use as raw materials or blended with other raw materials to produce a new product.
Twenty-seven of the gas oils and kerosenes in this assessment are used in industrial processes including as petroleum diluents (diluting or thinning agent), lubricants and petroleum production aids. They may also be used in printing inks, adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, and as industrial processing aids (for example, as cleaners and degreasers).
Gas oils and kerosenes may also be present in products available to consumers including, in automotive and furniture polishes, and in household cleaning products.
Testing for gas oils and kerosenes in products available to Canadian consumers was also carried out to determine the level of PAHs and BTEX present in these products.
Human and ecological exposures
Exposure of Canadians to gas oils and kerosenes from the environment (for example, drinking water) and food is not expected.
Canadians may be exposed to gas oils and kerosenes from the use of products available to consumers.
The health assessment examined the potential for Canadians’ exposure to gas oils and kerosenes containing PAHs and BTEX. Residual to low levels of PAHs and BTEX were found in products available to consumers (for example, in varnishes and engine cleaners).
Gas oils and kerosenes-containing substances may be released to the environment during industrial activities such as the use in paper mills and other industrial facilities. Gas oils and kerosenes used in these applications undergo wastewater treatment prior to release to the environment which is expected to remove a large fraction of the substances.
Key health and ecological effects (hazard)
Several international agencies have classified gas oils and kerosenes as carcinogens. This was considered to be the critical effect used for characterizing the risk to human health in this assessment.
Given the likelihood of gas oils and kerosenes to contain PAHs, the European Commission classified some of these substances as having “potential to cause cancer to humans.” Those containing less than 3% aromatics are not considered carcinogenic.
In addition, adverse reproductive and developmental effects were also considered in the risk characterization of gas oils and kerosenes.
For the ecological assessment, gas oils and kerosenes with aromatic contents ranging from 20 to 80% by weight were considered. Empirical and modelled aquatic toxicity data for gas oils and kerosenes indicated moderate to high hazard.
Risk assessment outcomes
Based upon a comparison of levels to which Canadians may be exposed to refined gas oils and kerosenes (substances containing low levels of PAHs), and the levels associated with health effects, the risk to human health for theses substances is considered to be low.
Product testing also showed that the gas oils and kerosenes used in products available to consumers have low levels of PAHs and BTEX. Therefore, the risk to human health is low.
Considering all information presented, it was determined that there is a risk to the environment from gas oils and kerosenes with both low and high aromatic content when used by paper mills as processing aids.
The Government intends to add gas oils and kerosenes with aromatic contents of 20% by weight or greater to Schedule 1 of CEPA, 1999, also called the List of Toxic Substances.
If the proposed conclusion is confirmed in the final screening assessment, the Government is considering the following actions to address ecological concerns:
Working with stakeholders to better understand sources of releases of gas oils and kerosenes to the environment throughout their lifecycles; and
Developing regulatory or non-regulatory initiatives that would limit industrial releases of gas oils and kerosenes from the pulp and paper sector to levels that are protective of the aquatic environment, taking into account technical and economic feasibility and consideration of socio-economic factors.
These 42 gas oils and kerosenes may be found in certain products available to consumers. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly.
Canadians who may be exposed to gas oils and kerosenes 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).