Tyres can cause Cancer – should we be worried?
Many a times you walk into a seminar expecting to hear usual sales talk & being bombarded with the figures beautifully choreographed into great looking charts and lots of incomprehensible technical jargon. It’s rare to find a seminar which engulfs panelists & audience alike into an animated discussion where one walks out with a satisfaction that the understanding on a given subject has been enhanced & encourages you to take some initiatives to change the way things are for the better.
On the wintery afternoon of December 10th 2015, Tyre Times got invited to cover one such seminar. Uninspiringly titled – “A Perspective on Sustainable Oil Technologies for Tyre & Rubber & Its Impact on Health, Safety & Environment.” Before walking in to the seminar, all we knew was that rubber processing oils constitute less than 0.1% of the total oils which are consumed globally today. Can such a minor amount of consumption have an effect on human health & environment – especially to a disease as serious as cancer?
To our surprise, the reality is that it has a profound effect. However you will be disappointed to know that in India we are yet to wake up to this reality.
European countries have been at the forefront when it comes to legislating on issues relating to environment & citizen’s health. They have invariably been first movers while countries like India have followed such initiatives. The Embassy of Sweden deserves all the kudos for kick starting a dialogue in India which had missed the attention of Indian environmental ministry or environmental pressure groups. The Embassy, with the help of Nynas – an oil company from Sweden, were able to put together on the dais an array of opinions across the business & society which included names like Nynas, Apollo Tyres, TERI, HASTERI & Centre of Science & Environment. The seminar saw a packed house in a small makeshift auditorium of Swedish embassy. The proceedings were neatly divided into 10 minutes slot for each speaker. We could spot familiar faces from the tyre industry including Mr Rajeev Budhiraja of ATMA, Mr Naveen Garg from Reliance industries & Dr S. N Chakaravarty from ETDC. They could be seen engaging with the panelists whenever any contentious issue cropped up.
The seminar definitely achieved its objective in placing some serious health & safety issues related to rubber processing oil’s in the public domain. The proceedings were opened by the introductory talk from Dr. Arup Chandra of Apollo, this year’s TRiLA Technical Person of the year, who gave an excellent introduction on the subject, which set the tone for the proceedings. He dwelled upon various options available to the tyre industry today in rubber processing oil domain and the ways in which countries across the world have effectively legislated to put a stop to the usage of carcinogenic aromatic oils in the tyre industry.
As the seminar progressed each one seems to be in agreement that India has been lackadaisical in its approach towards the issue of usage of carcinogenic oils by the tyre industry. The government of India has not even started working on the legislation for use of safer oils in the industry whereas Europe has enacted such a legislation almost 10 years ago. Currently the tyre industry in India is primarily using DAE oil which has now been banned in Europe after they have been found to contain poly cyclical aromatic components which cause cancer when released into the atmosphere & subsequently inhaled by the humans. These oils can easily be termed “Cancer causing oils”. Unfortunately in India such oils are being used with impunity in tyre industry – large & small alike.
Representatives from TERI & CSE agreed that this issue has missed their attention till now as not much data or information is available with them on this issue. They also warned that it is better that the tyre industry takes some proactive steps towards phasing out these oils before someone files PIL & the Pandora’s Box is opened. Dr. Mukhopadhyay from HASTERI lamented that despite tyre industry wanting to make a shift to safer oils, their hands are tied due to lack of production of non-carcinogenic oils in the country thus forcing them to use whatever options are available. He also mentioned that state oil companies which supply 80% of the countries requirement of Rubber Processing Oil have not invested in facilities to make oils which are safe. Mr. Pascal Verhoie, Regional Director, AMEA, Naynas Pte. Ltd. argued that safer oil options like NAPHTHENIC, TDAE & RAE are easily available in the international market now &, can be freely imported. Further he also mentioned that currently difference in prices between safer oils & unsafe oils is not so much warranting, continuing with the regular aromatic oils with higher than desired polycyclic aromatic content. He suggested that India should not wait for the government to enact legislation & tyre companies can take pro-active steps & start using these oils.
During the panel discussions, which followed the discussions, it was also pointed out that the workers working in tyre industry are at huge risk as they are exposed to such oils while working on the shop floor & in the past, increased incidents of cancer among employees, in an overseas tyre company, have been reported from the facilities which used such oils. Dr S.N. Chakravraty, who was in the audience argued that though the government is at fault for not coming with such an important legislation, the tyre industry cannot deflect the blame. As per him the safer oils are available globally & can easily be imported. Furthermore, industry in any case uses oils like Naphthenic for making tyres meant for Europe & they can very well use the same oils for making tyres in India too. He also slammed mushrooming of tyre pyrolysis plants in India which use low cost Chinese machinery to extract oils from tyres with utter disregard to environment & health implications. Much of the extracted oil then finds its way to ground water & air. He said that he was surprised that organization like TERI is propagating such technologies without understanding its total impact on public health & safety.
Mr. Naveen Garg from Reliance, also urged all stake holders to be more proactive as this concerns public health. Reliance meanwhile uses only fully safety compliant oils while making its range of oil extended SBR.
The discussions were carried out of the seminar room into embassy lawns when people mingled for tea. Tyre Times was flooded by recommendations & opinions from the panelists & audience alike. It was suggested that Tyre Times should take some proactive steps in keeping the issue alive & such an important health related issue should not be allowed to die down easily. It was also pointed out that automobile companies can easily take a lead & mandate in their specifications that tyres made only from safer oils will be bought by them. It was further argued that technology for usage of such oils is not a problem at all as, from technology point of view, such a switch can be made overnight .
Tyre Times view
India needs to take a generational jump in recognizing & legislating on public health & safety issues. Every small incremental step counts. We need to recognize that cost of curing a carcinogenic ailments is rising & is too high compared to any raw material substitution cost.
Most importantly, in today’s scenario, no company should ignore its responsibility towards the general population & its own labor force by using a raw material that has known carcinogenic matter and is banned in other parts of the world.
We also agree that each and every stake holder in the industry including, Government, NGO ‘s, tyre manufacturers, Automobile companies & press should play their role in furthering this cause of eliminating usage of aromatic oils from the tyres.
We at Tyre Times also agree that like everyone else we have also missed flagging this issue & if we do not act now it probably will be too late. The time is her to make amends & this article is but only a start.