All compounds in this group should be considered as causing cancer. Most of them may also cause genetic defects and are suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child. A few may also cause skin sensitisation.
Several of the compounds in this group are suspected to be toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. A few may also be regarded as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT).
Function and use
Petroleum chemicals are distilled from naturally occurring fossil oil and have slightly varying names and properties depending on which fraction in the distillation process they come from.
Different types of petroleum chemicals are suitable for a wide range of applications. The most common are fuel for vehicles and heating (the combustion of hydrocarbons to primarily carbon dioxide and water releases energy).
Other common applications are solvents for, and cleaning of, hydrophobic agents as the hydrophobic petroleum chemicals dissolve hydrophobic substances and grease.
Areas of application
Petroleum chemicals are mainly used as solvents and as a source of starting materials in the manufacture of bulk, large-scale and fine chemicals, including petroleum products.
Petroleum also plays an important role in the manufacture of plastic and rubber products. Monomers (that form polymers) are used to make most of the plastics produced worldwide and come primarily from fossil origin.
Most petroleum solvents are classified as carcinogenic and are thus restricted in REACH Annex XVII. However, this classification need not to apply if it can be shown that the substance contains defined low levels of certain impurities or if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen.
An alternative approach to reduce the use of petroleum is to reduce the use of plastic products in general and specifically the use of single-use plastics, and to work for improved recycling of plastic material by prioritising the production of materials that can be readily separated and for which there are recyclable methods.
One alternative to cleaning with petroleum is to use water-based methods that rely on heat, agitation and soap action to break dirt into smaller particles.
An alternative approach emerging on the market is cleaning with deionised and particle-free water, so called extra pure water (Qlean Scandinavia). This has been shown to possess grease-dissolving properties that are effective for the cleaning of e.g. facades, windows and printed circuit boards (PCBs).
Alternative compounds are available on the market that have been identified as safer alternatives for cleaning, for example Elevance Clean® 1000 from Elevance Renewable Sciences. It contains a bio-based cleaning ingredient which is claimed to work for asphalt and tar removal, metal degreasing and cleaning of crude oil.