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Panel: Neeraja Erraguntla
Media: Jennifer Garfinkel

Olefins are a class of chemicals that includes ethylene, propylene, and 1,3-butadiene.

Ethylene, also called ethene, is an industrial petrochemical and natural product. Ethylene is a basic building block for the chemistry industry and is the largest volume organic chemical produced in the U.S. and globally. Ethylene is produced commercially from petroleum and natural gas feedstocks in high temperature furnaces by thermal cracking. Ethylene occurs naturally in the environment and is produced by plants of all types. Ethylene is created by forest fires, cigarette smoke and incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Ethylene is also a natural plant hormone.

Ethylene is not sold to or used directly by consumers. Commercial ethylene is used as a feedstock in the production of polyethylene and other polymers and production of other industrial chemicals such as ethylene oxide, ethylene glycol, and ethylene dichloride. Polymers of ethylene are used to manufacture fibers, bins, pails, crates, bottles, piping, food packaging films, trash liners, bags, wire and cable sheathing, insulation, surface coatings for paper and cardboard, and wide variety of other products including tile and flooring for building and construction. Ethylene is also used to manufacture other chemicals that are used as antifreeze, solvents, surfactants, detergents, polyglycols, and ethanolamines. Minor uses of ethylene are: as a fuel gas in welding and cutting operations, in petrochemical industries as a refrigerant, and in commercial greenhouses as a ripening agent for fruits and vegetables.

Propylene is not sold to or used directly by consumers. Propylene is an industrial petrochemical and natural product. It exists naturally in the environment, where it is produced by vegetation and emitted from certain tree species. Propylene is also a combustion product from motor vehicle exhaust, aircraft exhaust and cigarette smoke. Essentially all of the propylene produced commercially is used as a chemical intermediate in other chemical manufacturing processes. Major uses are the production of polypropylene, propylene oxide, and other industrial chemicals such as acrylonitrile, oxo chemicals, and acrylic acid.

Butadiene is used primarily as a chemical intermediate and as a monomer in the manufacture of polymers such as synthetic rubbers or elastomers. Polymers made from butadiene are used in making tires, carpet backing, plastic gloves, wetsuits, rubber hoses, and gaskets. Butadiene is consumed in the manufacture of polymers, latexes, and plastics. Butadiene is not sold to or used directly by consumers.

The American Chemistry Council’s Olefins Panel was formed in 1994 to provide health and safety information to customers and government agencies and to promote scientifically sound government regulatory action for olefins. The Olefins Panel is actively involved in research, scientific reviews, product education and advocacy.

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