Short-chain chlorinated paraffins have been around since the 1930s, used as coolants and lubricants in the metalworking industry and plasticizers and flame retardants in rubber, paints, adhesives and plastics. Today the United States uses about 150 million pounds of this chemical, and China has increased its use of these paraffins 30-fold in the last 20 years. Although this manmade chemical has received little attention outside the metalworking industry, new concerns over the prevalence and health risks of short-chain chlorinated paraffins have earned it a prominent spot on the Environmental Protection Agency’s short list of chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk to our health and the environment.
Short-chain chlorinate paraffins are used in lubricants and coolants in the metalworking industry. Photo By Roberto Corralo/Courtesy Flickr.
This chemical is almost omnipresent around the world. Scientists have found short-chain chlorinated paraffins in human livers and breast milk, plastic and rubber products, the fat tissue of freshwater fish and marine mammals, and the water and wastewater of four continents: North America, Asia, Europe and Antarctica. Scientists have found that paraffins are toxic to some aquatic animals, including fish, and that they can cause cancer and liver, thyroid and kidney damage in some mammals. Paraffins accumulate in tissues, prolonging our exposure and worsening the effects.
Using the Toxic Control Susbstances Act of 1976, the EPA put short-chain chlorinated paraffins under review, saying it will investigate the risks of these paraffins and, depending on the findings, restrict or ban their use in the United States.