Skip to main content

Court Rules Against Industry Efforts to Hide Health Effects of Styrene

Victory: Styrene can be listed as potential carcinogen; public’s right to know upheld
May 16, 2013
Washington, D.C. —

The D.C. District Court today dismissed the styrene industry’s challenge to the identification of styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” ensuring that government can alert the American public to the potential dangers of styrene, a chemical used extensively in the manufacture of plastics, as well as boats, cars, bathtubs, and products made with rubber, such as tires and conveyer belts.

Styrene has long been suspected of being harmful to human health. It is used to manufacture many common household products such as disposable cups, containers and other food-contact materials. (HHS)

Earthjustice, representing United Steelworkers, Environmental Defense Fund, and an occupational doctor, intervened to help defend the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ listing of styrene as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in response to a chemical industry lawsuit attempting to force the agency to withdraw the styrene warning.

“The public will now have access to scientifically sound information on the link between styrene exposure and cancer,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, Earthjustice attorney representing the groups. “It’s clear that industry is trying to prevent people from getting scientific, and we intend to make sure government can inform the public of the risk of styrene, as well as the potential dangers of other chemicals.”

“Industry has been trying to throw mud at sound science, hoping that something would stick. It’s high time that the public get clear information, and we are pleased that the Court could see through what it called industry’s “scattershot” attack on the listing,” said Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers.

“Styrene has long been suspected of being harmful to human health. The listing of styrene by the Health and Human Services came after seven years of scientific review, vetting by multiple panels of experts, and numerous rounds of public comment. We hope that industry will now stop trying to create confusion about chemicals where there are clear health concerns and let government do its job when it comes to toxic chemicals,” Richard Denison, Senior Scientist with Environmental Defense Fund.

In addition to the HHS listing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates styrene as a Hazardous Air Pollutant and has described styrene to be "a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system, among others,” and the International Agency for Research on Cancer and World Health Organization have for years considered styrene to be "possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Styrene is used to manufacture many common household products such as plastic packaging and disposable cups, and is found in building insulation, automobile parts, floor waxes and polishes, and personal care products among other common items. It is also approved for use in containers and food-contact materials, and is an FDA-approved synthetic flavoring in ice cream and candy.

Under the Public Health Service Act, HHS has delegated the responsibility of publishing a biennial report on carcinogens to the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a part of the National Institutes of Health. In its most recent Report on Carcinogens (ROC), released on June 10, 2011, NTP listed the chemical styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” based on evidence from studies in both humans and animals.

Immediately following the listing, the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), an industry association, and Dart Container Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of polystyrene cups, sued HHS in D.C. District Court, seeking to compel HHS to withdraw the styrene listing. SIRC member companies, which include Dart, are involved in the manufacturing and processing of styrene or in the fabrication of styrene-based products.

Today’s decision has affirmed the strong scientific and legal basis behind HHS’ listing of styrene and firmly rejected the industry’s claims to the contrary.

Contacts

Marianne Engelman Lado, Earthjustice, (212) 845-7393

Richard Dennison, Environmental Defense Fund, (202) 387-3500

Mike Wright, United Steelworkers, (412) 370-0105

Peter Orris, University of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System, (312) 996-5804

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.