Coal Tars and their distillates
What are they?
- Coal tars are substances derived from the heating of coal in the absence of oxygen that occurs at integrated steel mills. Coal tar distillates are derived from the distillation of coal tars at coal tar refinery facilities.
- They are made of complex combinations of compounds, mainly aromatic hydrocarbons.
- Their composition varies based on their source, the heating temperature, and the distillation temperature for the distillates.
How are they used?
- Coal tar is used in the production of substances such as creosote, crude naphthalene, and carbon black feedstock.
- Coal tar is used as an active ingredient in human and veterinary drugs, primarily in the form of shampoos used to treat skin conditions. This use is considered safe.
- Coal tar distillates are used by aluminum smelters as a binder for aluminum smelting anodes, as a binder in graphite electrodes, as an adhesive/binder in clay pigeons and briquettes, in liners for industrial furnaces, in some pavement sealants, and in epoxy coatings used in industrial applications.
Why did the Government of Canada assess them?
- Coal tars and their distillates were included in the Petroleum Sector Stream Approach (Stream 0) under the Chemicals Management Plan for the screening assessment of potential risks to the environment and to human health.
- Prior to their assessment by the Government of Canada, coal tars and their distillates were identified as a potential concern for human and ecological health. Furthermore, they are classified by international organizations as substances that may cause cancer.
How are Canadians exposed to them?
- The general population may be exposed dermally to coal tars and their distillates through the use of products available to consumers (for example, pavement sealants), and orally from house dust containing low levels of components of coal tar-based pavement sealants.
- Although limited, it is recognized that a small portion of the general population may be exposed to coal tars and their distillates in the vicinity of coal tar production (for example, integrated steel mills) and refining facilities, and through the use of coal tar sealants.
How are they released into the environment?
- Coal tars and their distillates are released to air and deposited to soil from activities associated with their production, transportation and storage, as well as to water, soil, and house dust from the use and disposal of products that contain them.
What are the results of the assessment?
- The Government of Canada has conducted a science-based evaluation of coal tars and their distillates, called a screening assessment.
- Screening assessments address potential for harm to the general population of Canada and to the environment.
- Results of the draft screening assessment indicate that there is potential for exposure to humans from the production and processing of coal tars and their distillates as well as the pavement sealant product containing these substances used by consumers.
- Results of the draft screening assessment indicate that there is potential for exposure to the environment from the production and processing of coal tars and their distillates as well as pavement sealant products containing these substances.
- The Government of Canada is therefore proposing that coal tars and their distillates are entering the environment in a quantity or under conditions that constitute a danger to the environment.
- The Government of Canada is also proposing that coal tars and their distillates may be considered harmful to human health.
- Hazards related to chemicals used in the workplace should be classified accordingly under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
What is the Government of Canada doing?
- The Government of Canada published the Draft Screening Assessment of Coal Tars and their Distillates and the Risk Management Scope for Coal Tars and their Distillates on June 11, 2016, followed by a 60-day public comment period ending on August 10, 2016.
- If the proposed conclusion is confirmed in the final screening assessment, the Government of Canada proposes that further action be taken on coal tars and their distillates to reduce their risk to human health and the environment.
What can Canadians do?
- The health risks associated with a substance depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects) and the dose (the amount of substance to which you are exposed).
- Use of coal tar-based health care products is recognized as safe and effective for use in the treatment of various skin conditions and differs from the coal tars in this assessment.
- Alternative products to coal tar-based pavements sealants are available to the general public at retailers.
- Canadians are invited to comment on the published documents and/or on the conclusions reached.
- Canadians who may be exposed to these coal tars and their distillates in the workplace should consult with their employer and occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws and requirements under the OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
- As a general precaution, Canadians are reminded when using any product to carefully follow any safety warnings and directions, and to dispose of the products appropriately.
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