Petrolatum and waxes

What are they?

  • Petrolatum, slack wax and oxidized petrolatum (referred to as petrolatum and waxes) are substances composed of a complex combination of petroleum hydrocarbons. Their composition can vary based on their source, the refining process and how they are blended to produce a finished product.
  • The hydrocarbons found in petrolatum and waxes vary in length from 12 to 85 carbon atoms that are arranged as linear chains, branches, and/or rings.

How are they used?

  • Petrolatum is found in various products including personal care products, lubricants, household cleaning products, adhesives/sealants and paints/coatings. It is also a permitted food additive with a limited number of approved uses and it is used in food processing applications.
  • Slack wax is found in a limited number of products such as chimney cleaning and fireplace logs. It is also found in paints/coatings and adhesives (for example, wood sealer), polishing grease, as well as, in oriented strand board (OSB). Oxidized petrolatum is used in industrial settings as a metal surface treatment and lubricant.
  • Based on the most recent data, petrolatum, slack wax and oxidized petrolatum were imported into Canada. In addition, petrolatum and slack wax were also manufactured in Canada.

Why did the Government of Canada assess them?

  • Petrolatum and waxes were included in the Petroleum Sector Stream Approach (Stream 4) under the Chemicals Management Plan for the screening of potential risks to the environment and to human health.
  • Prior to their assessment, petrolatum and waxes were identified as potential concerns for human health. Furthermore, they are classified by international organizations as substances that may cause cancer, depending on their purity.

How are Canadians exposed to them?

  • The general population of Canada may be exposed to petrolatum through the use of products available to consumers, including personal care products.
  • Canadians may also be exposed to petrolatum through its potential use as a permitted food additive, namely, as a release agent for bakery goods, as a coating for fresh fruits and vegetables and as a confectionery glaze.
  • In addition, Canadians may be exposed to slack wax during the use of products such as chimney cleaning logs.
  • Exposure to the general population of Canada to oxidized petrolatum is not expected.

How are they released into the environment?

  • Potential releases of petrolatum and waxes to the environment consist mainly of releases of products down the drain to municipal wastewater.
  • Releases of these substances to municipal wastewater are mostly removed by wastewater treatment plants as they are insoluble in water.
  • Releases from transportation of these substances between industrial facilities and the marketplace are low.

What are the results of the assessment?

  • The Government of Canada has conducted a science-based evaluation of petrolatum and waxes, called a screening assessment.
  • Screening assessments address potential for harm to the general population of Canada and the environment.
  • Results of the final screening assessment indicate that there is low potential for harm to the environment from petrolatum and wax substances.
  • The Government of Canada has concluded that petrolatum and waxes are not entering the environment at levels that constitute a danger to the environment.
  • The current regulatory standards for purity of petrolatum for use in marketplace products limit the level of impurities such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to very low levels. Petrolatum that meets food-grade specifications is highly-refined such that PAHs are essentially eliminated.
  • The Government of Canada has also concluded that petrolatum and waxes are not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
  • 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 Final Screening Assessment for Petrolatum and Waxes on June 11, 2016.
  • Based on the conclusion of the final screening assessment, the Government of Canada proposes that no further action be taken on petrolatum and waxes.
  • The Government of Canada will continue to require that importers and manufacturers use only high purity petrolatum in products and foods.

What can Canadians do?

  • The potential health risks associated with a chemical depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects) and the dose (the amount of substance to which you are exposed).
  • Canadians who may be exposed to petrolatum and waxes 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 to carefully follow any safety warnings and directions when using any product, and to dispose of the products appropriately.
Petrolatum and waxes assessed by the Government of Canada
CAS RN DSL Name
8009-03-8 Petrolatum
64742-61-6 Slack wax (petroleum)
64743-01-7 Petrolatum (petroleum), oxidized
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