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Public's Right to Know: Styrene

Case Number # 2378

Earthjustice and a coalition of groups are working to make sure the 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. The groups are seeking to help defend the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ listing of styrene as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." The motion is in response to a chemical industry lawsuit attempting to force the agency to withdraw the styrene warning.

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)
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)

Styrene has long been suspected of being harmful to human health. The listing of styrene by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) came after seven years of scientific review, vetting by multiple panels of experts, and numerous rounds of public comment. HHS is the United States government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans.

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.

Press Releases

Thursday, May 16, 2013
Styrene can be listed as potential carcinogen; public’s right to know upheld
Monday, May 21, 2012
Oppose industry challenge to listing styrene as potential carcinogen; Public’s right to know government health findings under attack