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Transition to non-phthalate plasticizers speeds up in Europe

Arkema is closing its phthalate plasticizer plant in Chauny, France as the market shifts to nonphthalates used to make polyvinyl chloride for medical bags, tubing and other applications. The plant closure also reflects significant structural weakness in the European PVC industry.  Arkema is the leading supplier of phthalate plasticizers to the medical industry in Europe. According to ICIS, the Arkema plant in France can produce 70,000 metric tons per year of DOP and 90,000 metric tons/year of phthalic anhydride plasticizer.

Arkema is closing its phthalate plasticizer plant in Chauny, France as the market shifts to nonphthalates used to make polyvinyl chloride for medical bags, tubing and other applications. The plant closure also reflects significant structural weakness in the European PVC industry. 

Arkema is the leading supplier of phthalate plasticizers to the medical industry in Europe. According to ICIS, the Arkema plant in France can produce 70,000 metric tons per year of DOP and 90,000 metric tons/year of phthalic anhydride plasticizer.

TOTM Plasticizer (tris -2-ethylhexyl- trimellitate) has already made significant inroads replacing DOP (bis-2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) in tubing in Europe. The closure of Arkema's DOP plant in France is expected to accelerate transition to alternates for medical applications.

Plasticizers can migrate out of PVC, triggering a shift to low-volatile alternatives. There are concerns that some phthalates can be an endocrine disrupter. Earlier this year, the Danish Ministry of Health recommended that the use of classified phthalates in medical devices be phased out. PVC producers say that phthalates are safe. The trend away from phthalate plasticizers is still in the early stages in the United States.

Meanwhile, capacity is growing for alternates, particularly DOTP (dioctyl terephthalate).

OXEA is bringing on line another European plant to produce DOTP. Eastman and BASF also supply DOTP. According to a published forecast by OXEA, the DOTP market doubled in 2012 to at least 40,000 metric tons, and is expected to reach 160,000 metric tons next year. Eastman, a global supplier, announced last month that it will boost capacity of its non-phthalate plasticizers in Texas City, TX.

Biobased alternatives to phthalate plasticizers are also being developed by several suppliers.

At K2013 last month, several companies introduced new technology for nonphthalate plasticizers, including new chemistry from Evonik, Emerald and Perstorp and new equipment from Milacron and Conair.

The Arkema plant closing also represents a broader structural problem in Europe.

"The West Europe PVC industry is struggling and consolidating," said Steve Brien, a global business director at IHS, at the Global Plastics Summit last week in Chicago. Demand for PVC in Europe is growing just 1.9% over the next five years, compared to 4.6% in the Americas. PVC demand is largely driven by the construction market.

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