Uses and Properties

Aromatics get their name from their distinctive aromatic or perfumed smell.

Almost all aromatics come from crude oil, although small quantities are made from coals. The main substances in this group are benzene, toluene and xylenes. They are used as starting materials for a wide range of consumer products: clothing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, computers, paints, vehicle components, cooking utensils, household fabrics, sports equipment, etc. Products made using aromatics can reduce energy consumption and so have a positive impact on the environment.

The Aromatics Producers Association (APA) is a trade association bringing together the European manufacturers of aromatics.

Issues and Regulations

REACH Implementation

The LOA (Lower Olefins Aromatics) Consortium was formed, through which manufacturers have joined efforts to prepare by 30 November 2010 consistent registration dossiers covering 130 to 140 substances within 20 categories.

Regulations

  • Follow-up of the Convention on the Collection, Deposit and Reception of Waste produced during Navigation on the Rhine and Inland Waterways (CDNI) legislation on degassing of barges
  • Assess the impact of the fuel legislation on aromatics producers
  • Follow-up of the Common Waste Gas Treatment in the Chemical Sector (WGC) Best Available Techniques (BAT) reference documents (BREF): no quantitative BAT-associated emission levels (AEL) were determined for aromatics plants, but it could be included later in the WGC BREF

Benzene OEL

  • Benzene OEL: in March 2018, the ECHA Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) proposed in a scientific opinion to lower significantly the occupational exposure limit (OEL) for benzene in the CMD (Carcinogenic and Mutagenic Directive).  To prepare for the tripartite discussion between members states, trade unions and employers, the Aromatics Producers Association (APA) together with Concawe , the fuel refining research body, commisioned Triskelion to carry out a  socio-economic analysis (SEA). The study shows that reducing the benzene OEL to such an extent would be extremely costly for the industry and would be almost technically and practically impossible. The SEA Executive summary is available HERE.
  • A SEA must be carried out to support the debate and the European Commission has mandated a consortium led by COWI, a Danish consultant, to conduct it. The industry has provided the results of its own SEA to COWI.
  • Over the past year, an expert team of toxicologists from APA and Concawe members has continued the work initiated by RAC. RAC’s conclusion was that the risk of cancer due to benzene is limited under a certain threshold: there is no (significant) residual cancer risk below its proposed OEL. However, RAC did not provide a benzene-exposure cancer risk evaluation at higher values than its proposal. The industry evaluated the studies considered by RAC taking into account their quality and accuracy and found that the risk of cancer was insignificant up to an OEL of 0.5 ppm, ten times higher than the one proposed by RAC. However pending clarification related to bone marrow sensitivity, industry can accept to apply an additional assessment factor of 2 to give an OEL of 0.25 ppm. The industry is currently writing a scientific paper that will be submitted to a peer reviewed scientific journal.
  • In conclusion, the industry believes that an OEL lower than 0.25 ppm would not provide any additional health benefits to protect workers against cancer, while forcing them to use more respiratory personnel equipment which can increase safety risks. In addition, it would result in uncertainties about the technical feasibility and incur excessive costs for the industry.
    For further information, please read the industry OEL proposal and position paper.
  • On 4 June 2019, the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH), a tripartite body made up of representatives representatives from member states, trade unions and employers, approved the proposal of the Working Party Chemicals (WPC) on the benzene occupational exposure level (OEL) and advised the European Commission to adopt the binding OEL accordingly in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). The proposal sets a BOEL of 0.5 ppm 2 years after the entry into force of the legislation and of 0.2 ppm four years afterwards. ACSH further recommended that a revision process should be started to lower the benzene OEL even further in 2028 to take into account the 2018 RAC opinion and any new relevant information.
  • On 11th September 2019, the Aromatics Producer Asosciation (APA) organised a half day symposium on the current revision of the occupational exposure limit (OEL) for benzene by the EU. The current binding OEL for benzene in the EU is 1 ppm as set in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD), although some countries have already implemented lower values in their legislation.
    The main conclusion of the work  of the Lower Olefins and Aromatics (LOA) Consortium benzene workgroup  is that the quality of epidemiological studies should  be thoroughly taken into account quality when defining a benzene’s OEL for a substance because this will have an impact on the value obtained. During the symposium, Prof M. Zeegers presented the basic notions and requirements needed to ensure the quality of epidemiological studies, while Prof P. Boogaard presented the RAC opinion as it was published. S. Williams and Dr R. Schnatter presented the results of their assessment that takes into account the quality of the studies. They concluded that, given the likely mode of action, there are no adverse health effects, including risk of cancer, at and below exposures of 0.25 ppm / 8h . A. Morris from DG Employment then explained the next steps in the setting of an OEL for benzene and the legislative process that should be completed by the end of 2021. The meeting was chaired by Dr. F. Faulhammer and the panel discussion was led by Dr. M. Rooseboom.  The full summary of the event is available HERE.

Other issue

  • Manage research projects within the science programme. This includes the follow-up of proposed new substances into environmental regulations like Water Framework Directive (toluene)

Chairperson

Chairman: Bertrand Gyselynck, Total
Vice-Chair: Daniela Mura, INEOS

Contact

de Smedt Philip
Sector Group Manager
32 (02) 436 94 84