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Styrene Industry Accuses HHS of ‘Willful Ignorance’ Over Carcinogen Listing

U.S. styrene industry bodies the Styrene Information and Research Center and the American Composites Manufacturers Association have written a letter urging secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sebelius to reclassify styrene as non-carcinogenic.

The letter asks Sebelius to remove a proposed listing of styrene in the upcoming 12th Report on Carcinogens authored by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an inter-agency program administered by HHS. The bodies also want to schedule the substance for a re-review in the next edition.

The proposed passage would list styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Both groups claim that this listing would ignore scientific evidence to the contrary.

The groups claim that European Union regulators and a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study have determined that styrene does not represent a human cancer concern.

The industry appeal follows a bipartisan letter sent to the secretary on May 11, signed by 63 congressmen – 47 Republicans and 16 Democrats – which also claimed there were serious deficiencies in the styrene review.

The NTP’s recommended listing is “based on a selective reading of the available scientific information that ignored a large number of important studies that did not support the staff position. Not only was this information ignored, it was effectively excluded from the information presented to the NTP’s Board of Scientific Counselors ,” according to the letter from Jack Snyder, executive director of the Styrene Information and Research Center, and John Schweitzer, senior director of government affairs for the American Composites Manufacturers Association.

“NTP’s blind reliance on its process and willful ignorance of the entire body of science is a direct threat to the employment of over 750,000 people who work in the thousands of small and medium-sized companies that use styrene and styrene-based materials to make products that are used everyday by virtually every American,” the letter reads.

Styrene-based materials, including polystyrene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, styrene-butadiene rubber, styrene-butadiene latex and styrene composites, are used to make a wide variety of products that extend the life of transportation infrastructure, increase fuel economy, produce green energy and prevent pollution, the industry bodies said.

Styrene also occurs naturally in plants, including cinnamon, strawberries, coffee and wheat, according to the styrene groups.

A recent industry-commissioned study found that polystyrene cups, plates and sandwich containers use significantly less energy and water than comparable paper-based or corn-based alternatives.

Researchers modeled energy consumption, water use, solid waste (by weight and volume) and greenhouse gas emissions for each product resulting from production, transportation and disposal.

Picture credit: Crispin Semmens

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5 thoughts on “Styrene Industry Accuses HHS of ‘Willful Ignorance’ Over Carcinogen Listing

  1. According to a letter of support for SB-568 from Worksafe, an Oakland-based group working for safety, health and justice for workers, “The styrene [in food containers] leaches into food when heated, or in contact with acids, grease and oil.” And “workers exposed to styrene may suffer increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma and neurogical problems such as loss of hearing, balance, and spatial orientation.”

    Sounds carcinogencic to me.

    The studies the plastics industry refers to which suggest styrene is not carcinogenic are undoubtedly produced by the industry itself.

    Has the petro-chemical industry ever earned our trust before? Should we trust them now? Should styrene be removed from the carcinogen list? The answer to all three questions is no.

    I am sick of our politicians bowing down to this bullying industry which continually obfuscates truth to consumers, “donates” large sums of money to politicians, sues small cities and companies, willfully risks human health with its products and pollutes our home — the only habitable planet.

    A toxin by any other name is still a toxin.

  2. Amen to that! One of my peers was told by the rep for polystyrene cups that they are 90% air – therefore “naturally occurring”. I asked what the other 10% was – since it doesn’t biodegrade? The industry preys on people who won’t ask the hard questions, and pays off the ones who do. The rest of us still get styrene whether we want to or not in the products we are sold.

  3. I second the above… As part of my social circle, I’m good friends with a retired oncologist. He dicided early on to set up practice near on of the styrene using facilities recently listed in the news. He told me the links to various byproduct chemicals used in products made with/from styrene and related compounds was one of the very reasons he decided to establish his practice where he did. Made sense, he said, as there would ALWAYS be a need for his services in such a location!!! Can anybody spell “Class Action Suit!”?
    Ever see the movie “Rainmaker”?
    There’s money to be made on BOTH sides of this fence…. and that’s the very reason the industry tries so hard to keep the general public in the dark!!!

  4. Polystyrene – Stable, doesn’t leach even when heated.. Styrene Absolutely bloody carcinogenic. See IARC monograph vol 82. pg 80.
    Start using it responsibly when making products and quit forming interest groups to kvetch

  5. Im 70 years old, been doing polyester fiberglass work since the age of 11. built racecar bodies that have been on museum located racecars that have won many world class events. I have had my hands and parts of my body in acetone and (whats left of styrene) almost everyworking day of my life. The fact they have taken the styrenes out of the material is ruining my business and making the resulting product worse by the week. I cant hardly build a quality product anymore.Maybe I should just quit and live without an income. Maybe we should just outlaw oil, that precious comodity the world fights over all the time claiming its for another reason. Will the sierra club support me?

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