Epichlorohydrin (ECH) is a highly reactive chemical compound that contains epoxy and chlorine. Moderate solubility in water, miscibility in polar solvents, and chiral structure are some of the properties that make ECH suitable for the manufacture of synthetic polymers such as epoxy resins and glues, glycerols, plastics, and elastomers. ECH is manufactured using either propylene or glycerin as feedstock. Using propylene as raw materials, allyl chloride and allyl alcohol methods are employed to produce ECH. ECH is further processed with nitrate to manufacture fumigants, solvents, propellants, and binders for explosives.
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ECH is either used on its own or in combination with other compounds in several end-user industries. For instance, ECH and polymers are used in the food and beverages and paper reinforcement industries. ECH is used in water purification processes and in the manufacture of teabags and coffee filters. It is also used as a crosslinking medium in the manufacture of several chromatographic resins. Besides this, it is employed in the manufacture of synthetic glycerin, which has applications in cellophane, meat casings, explosives, cosmetics, and other military items. ECH is also used in the form of alkyd resins in the paints and coatings industry.
Health Problems Associated with Exposure to Epichlorohydrin Stand in Way of Market’s Growth
Epichlorohydrin is related to certain health implications, studies have shown. It is a strong skin irritant and is reported as being carcinogenic. Short-term inhalation of epichlorohydrin in industrial units has been linked with irritation in the eyes, irritation of the skin, and respiratory tract problems. High levels of exposure to ECH can cause nausea, cough, lung inflammation, vomiting, and labored breathing, pulmonary edema, inflammation of the lungs, and eruption of renal lesions. Long-term exposure to ECH due to occupational reasons is associated with hematological effects and high levels of respiratory tract illnesses.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified epichlorohydrin as a Group B2 substance, which indicates that it is probably carcinogenic. Observations made on rodents that had long-term exposure to ECH were related how the same could have health implications in humans in the event of acute inhalation of the substance.
Thus, studies have proven that ECH inhalation can cause damage to the nasal passage, kidneys, and respiratory tract. Tumors of the nasal cavity are associated with ECH in case of long-term exposure to this chemical in high concentrations. To address this, research and development is underway to reduce the hazardous effects of ECH on human health and the environment.
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Asia Pacific Stands as Largest Regional Market for ECH
In 2014, Asia Pacific stood as the largest producer and consumer of ECH due to the high demand for ECH-based products in China. Presently, China holds more than one-third of the global market for ECH. The regional market is witnessing the fastest growth in terms of volume as well due to the rising demand for ECH in Taiwan and South Korea. In 2014, Europe stood as the largest market for epichlorohydrin. This is ascribed to the increasing use of this substance in paints and coating applications in Germany. The North America market for ECH has been expanding at a moderate rate over the past few years. Strict regulations in place due to the harmful effects of ECH on human health and environment and the diminishing profit margins of manufacturers will hamper the growth of the ECH market in North America in the forthcoming years.