Five experimental petroleum extracts were produced from luboil distillates derived from Middle East paraffinic crude by solvent extraction and severe hydrotreatment. The polycyclic aromatic content (PCA) of the extracts was determined by dimethyl sulphoxide extraction and ranged from 3.7-9.2% w/w. The five extracts were evaluated for their potential to induce cutaneous and systemic neoplasia in female mice derived from Carworth Farm No 1 strain (CF1). The test substances were applied undiluted (0.2 ml per application) to the shorn dorsal skin twice weekly for up to 78 weeks, with 48 mice in each treatment group and 96 in the untreated control group; two further groups, each of 48 mice, were similarly treated either with a non-hydrotreated commercial aromatic extract (PCA content, 19.7% w/v) or with a low dose of benzo(a)pyrene (12.5 micrograms/ml acetone). The mice were housed individually in polypropylene cages in specified pathogen free conditions. The incidence of cutaneous and systemic tumours was determined from histological analysis of haematoxylin and eosin stained tissue sections. The results were correlated with the PCA content of the extracts and compared with those from female mice exposed to a non-hydrotreated commercial aromatic extract. Four of the hydrotreated extracts were carcinogenic for murine skin; the two products with the lower PCA contents were less carcinogenic than the products with the higher PCA contents and all were less carcinogenic than the commercial extract. One extract with the lowest PCA content was non-carcinogenic. Thus refining by severe hydrotreatment was an effective method of reducing the carcinogenic potential of petroleum aromatic extracts. Although other physicochemical properties may influence the biological activity of oil products, the PCA content determined by dimethyl sulphoxide extraction may be a useful indicator of the potential of oil products to induce cutaneous tumours in experimental animals. There was no evidence that the commercial or hydrotreated extracts increased the incidence of systemic neoplasms when applied twice weekly to the dorsal skin.
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