New OSHA and California regulations should have limited impact.

A state and federal regulatory tag team took swings at composites manufacturers this year. The California EPA will now require cancer warnings for many products made with styrene, while OSHA has introduced stringent new regulations on exposure levels for respiratory crystalline silica (RCS).

But the impact of the new regulations may not be as large as the composites industry originally anticipated. ACMA’s Government Affairs Committee has conducted research to assess the regulations’ possible effects on association members and developed tools to help them comply. It found that while all manufacturers should assess their operations, most will not be affected by these regulatory changes.

Styrene Listed Under Prop 65

Any U.S. company that produces or sells products that could be used in California must comply with the provisions of Proposition 65, so California Environmental Protection Agency’s (CalEPA) inclusion of styrene on its list of possible carcinogens could affect composite manufacturers throughout the country.

For more than a decade, both CalEPA and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have been looking at styrene as a possible carcinogen. While several large studies of composites industry workers have found no link, research in 2011 showed that at relatively low exposure levels, mice exposed to styrene develop lung tumors.

“But neither the NTP nor CalEPA paid much attention to the large number of studies and the large body of robust evidence that shows that the mouse lung tumors occur through a bio-chemical mechanism that doesn’t happen in humans,” says John Schweitzer, ACMA’s senior advisor to the president on government affairs. “Humans don’t have the enzymes that are used in mice to convert styrene to the tumor-causing chemical.”

NTP included styrene in its 2014 Report on Carcinogens and classified it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” That resulted in CalEPA adding styrene to the Prop 65 list, which includes hundreds of chemicals ranging from relatively obscure ones such as methylazoxymethanol acetate to familiar carcinogens like tobacco smoke.

Although the styrene industry had presented evidence to both NTP and CalEPA supporting its position that styrene is not a carcinogen, the Government Affairs Committee realized it needed to develop a strategy in case the organizations rejected its viewpoint. Working with an experienced Prop 65 consultant, the committee created a program to help members comply. Researchers developed a method that composite manufacturers can use to estimate their products’ styrene emissions, then employed that process to test about a dozen typical composite products. They also estimated the likely safe harbor exposure limits CalEPA would set for styrene.