Reducing rubber risks

The European Commission has this week adopted a proposal that will restrict the marketing and use of certain extender oils in the production of tyres.

Extender oil, also referred to as process or softening oil, is added to rubber compounds in the production process for tyres and other rubber goods to achieve what BLIC – European Association of the Rubber Industry – describes as ‘acceptable processability’. Specific oils also have an impact on certain performance characteristics of the final product, such as the amount of grip the tyres have on the road.

The Commission says the proposal is designed to protect the public by setting safe limits for the amount of certain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are found in extender oils as a consequence of the refining process because some PAHs have been identified as carcinogenic in humans. Hence, the Commission has proposed a maximum limit of 10 ppm for PAHs used in the manufacture of tyres.

The Commission’s proposal is said to be in line with the opinion of its Scientific Committee and the UN Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Mrs Fazilet Cinaralp, Secretary General of European Association of the Rubber Industry is unconvinced by the Commissions claims.

‘PAHs do not contribute to environmental damage,’ she said. ‘The [EC] proposal does not have the right objective. It will not improve the health of the public.’

Mrs Cinaralp cited studies from the Pasteur Institute and Biolab, which are said to have confirmed that it is impossible for aromatic oils contained in tyres to be released into the environment in their initial chemical state because they are closely bound into the mass of the tyre.

Despite Mrs Cinaralp’s reservations, both the oil industry and the tyre industry have agreed to phase out the production and use of PAH-rich extender oils by 2009.