Bottom line, we don’t believe NTP has included everything necessary to assess the data and that the assessments they’ve done have been quite biased. Beyond that, the level of concern being proposed for their classification is beyond any kind of public health benefit because of the levels of exposure to the public, even for workers in the composites industry, who are the highest exposed segment of the population. There just is not any data that shows there would be concern for the exposure levels that exist.
Why is SIRC interested in health effects?
We are a singular organization, dealing with this one chemical. We represent the manufacturers of the monomer but also the interests of polymer users because it is such a ubiquitous component of so many plastics products. In many cases, styrene is a singular component where there are not good substitutes. The quality of the product, the cost of manufacturing, and the performance would not be possible. When agencies are claiming a significant health effect, which we don’t believe is supported by science, and which raises levels of concerns from workers, consumers and the public, we believe they need to get accurate information.
What’s your role in relation to composites companies?
A few of them are SIRC members, but we just work in corroboration with the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) and we provide the science input as they address the regulatory issues. We’re the science liaison, and back up the claims the industry makes from a scientific perspective.
What common questions do you get about styrene?
The main questions we get are related to individuals who believe they have been exposed to high levels of styrene. They’re people who do projects where they reline sewers or similar things, where their exposure is, in rare instances, from a spill or something like that. It’s primarily individuals who have a health concern and are worried if they’re going to get ill from styrene.
What don’t people know that surprises you?
The main thing is a lot of people confuse polystyrene with styrene monomer. The average person can’t distinguish between the monomer and the polymer product; but they’re not the same thing. The chemical process to create the polymer, which is then used to create the plastic, means the styrene is no longer a component in most cases. Another factor is that styrene, particularly in the air in a composites plant, is very easily detectable in extremely low levels. People can smell styrene and they’re feeling dangerously exposed when they simply aren’t. They just smell it because it has a low odor threshold.