Formaldehyde-Releasing Chemicals in the Petroleum Industry

Source: 10/23/2023, Location: Europe

The petroleum industry uses tens of tonnes per year of chemical products that release the carcinogen formaldehyde. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) has now sent a circular to the industry to investigate how exposure risk has been mapped and addressed.

Our aim thereby is to contribute to increased knowledge and awareness of formaldehyde exposure, so that appropriate risk management systems and risk-reducing measures can be established.

Carcinogenic chemicals
In 2022, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) conducted a survey of carcinogenic chemicals in the petroleum industry. The survey yielded information on the extent and use of carcinogenic chemicals among the companies in the industry. The results of the survey were presented in the report Carcinogenic chemicals in the petroleum industry (in Norwegian only) which was published on the PSA’s website in June 2023.

The results of the survey show that high volumes of carcinogenic chemicals are still used in the petroleum industry. Annual consumption varies between areas of deployment, but high volumes are in use especially in processing/production and drilling/wells. The issue here is primarily the use of chemicals that can release formaldehyde (FAR chemicals). Data from the survey and other information collected show that tens of tonnes of FAR chemicals are used annually in the sector.

What is a FAR chemical: A FAR chemical is a chemical compound that releases formaldehyde, either spontaneously, or through reactions with other chemicals or water. In the petroleum industry, FAR chemicals are mainly used as H2S scrubbers, and in some cases as biocide in diesel.

The primary health effects of formaldehyde exposure are respiratory irritation and increased risk of developing nasopharyngeal/sinus cancer and lymphoma (acute myeloid leukaemia). Formaldehyde can also trigger allergic reactions in the event of skin contact.

Exposure to formaldehyde, like exposure to benzene, is associated with an increased risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). However, little is known about how simultaneous exposure to benzene and formaldehyde will affect the risk of developing lymphoma.

Do we have sufficient knowledge?
Some companies in the industry have started working on mapping the exposure risks associated with FAR chemicals. However, both experience from our audits and the results of the 2022 survey indicate a need for more knowledge about potential formaldehyde exposure situations and formaldehyde exposure levels from FAR chemicals.

The PSA has undertaken a collaborative project with STAMI to investigate these factors more closely. The project is mainly focused on knowledge acquisition and dissemination, and aims to procure a more detailed overview of the scope and use of FAR chemicals, as well as exposure situations and levels.

As part of this work, the PSA has contacted the industry to obtain information on the use and handling of formaldehyde releasers, as well as results from surveys performed and occupational hygiene measurements of formaldehyde releasers.

The information acquired will be reviewed and compiled into a knowledge report. The objective of the work is to:
Identify exposure situations and levels in respect of formaldehyde from FAR chemicals offshore and onshore
Investigate the possible interaction of formaldehyde and benzene with respect to adverse health outcomes, particularly concerning cancer risk.

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