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Policy

China Touts p-Xylene

Target of environmental protests, chemical is defended as key to economic growth.

by Jean-François Tremblay
May 5, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 18

China’s state media have begun a campaign to defend p-xylene, a widely used chemical that has been the subject of numerous environmental protests in recent years.

China’s state television is broadcasting reports describing how p-xylene is produced in other countries with no public anxiety. A segment on Singapore that aired late last month, for example, noted that petrochemical facilities in the island-state are located a mere 1.5 miles from the business district.

Editorial writers at state-affiliated newspapers are also weighing in with defenses of the chemical because of its role in economic development.

The latest Chinese protests against p-xylene occurred last month in the southern city of Maoming (C&EN, April 7, page 9). A survey taken soon after by the nationalist newspaperGlobal Times revealed how unloved the chemical is countrywide. Support for the construction of p-xylene plants stood at no more than 20% in five cities where protests have occurred, according to the survey.

Derived from oil refinery sidestreams, p-xylene is used to make polyester fibers and plastics, including resin for soda bottles. The chemical is toxic but less so than substances such as benzene and vinyl chloride that are widely made in China and aren’t significantly opposed.

The China Association for Science & Technology, which calls itself a bridge between Chinese scientists and the country’s government, held a conference on p-xylene in early April that was attended by about 300 scientists and industry representatives. A CAST speaker said the association has a responsibility to educate the public on the merits of a chemical that plays an important role in economic development.

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Comments
Donald Barnes (May 7, 2014 11:59 AM)
C&EN could perform a value service by summarizing the toxicology data about PX, and comparing them with data associated with other, more familiar, chemicals. Many stories have been written about the protests, but precious little light has been shed on the underlying science of the debate.
Bob Butnrock (May 16, 2014 5:05 PM)
Such data can be found in HSDB.

P-Xylene is the starting material for terephthalic acid, one of the monomers for PET. There is little or no carryover to the finished products. p-Xylene plants are the largest chemical plants since the isomers are most efficiently isolated by cryogenic crystallization (the isomers in the xylene mixture have closely separat3ed bps but the p-isomer has a significantly higher freezing point). The recycle rate is about 75%.
JF Tremblay (May 15, 2014 5:58 AM)
Xylenes ranks 64 out of 275 commonly found toxic substances, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. This is a list that ranks the danger posed by specific substances in the US, considering both their toxicity and how widely found they are. Lead, arsenic, and mercury top the list. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/spl/

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