You Know Styrene

A resource for consumers, employees and communities

Health and Safety: Workers

Extensive, peer-reviewed studies of styrene workers show that styrene exposure is not linked to increases in cancer or other serious health effects.
Working with Styrene in a Manufacturing Facility

The possible health effects of styrene exposure for workers in facilities that make or use styrene depend on the concentration level and length of exposure.

Facilities that manufacture or use styrene typically employ a number of safety features to protect workers’ health and limit exposures. In the composites industry, for example, these precautions may include enclosures around work processes, closed processing areas, advanced ventilation systems, personal protective gear and monitoring equipment. Composite and boat manufacturers, along with other styrene users, voluntarily comply with a styrene worker exposure limit of one-fifth the official U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limit, to help assure worker safety.

Additionally, workplace exposure levels have declined significantly since the late 1990s as the result of improved safety practices that have been put in place across the industry.

Learn more about studies on worker safety here.

Short-term Exposures

Short-term exposure (up to 6 hours) to levels of styrene above 100 parts per million can potentially cause headaches, fatigue, weakness, eye irritation and symptoms similar to those of alcohol consumption, such as dizziness and slight nausea. These symptoms are typically temporary and recovery usually occurs within 48 hours. Source[1]

Long-term Exposures

Several extensive, peer-reviewed studies of styrene workers show that long-term (at least several years) styrene exposure does not cause cancer or other serious health effects in people. These studies, conducted over the past two decades, have examined the health of more than 60,000 workers involved in styrene use or production in the United States, Canada, Japan and multiple European countries. Source[2]

A review conducted by an expert panel led by Dr. Paolo Boffetta of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and formerly of the International Agency for Research on Cancer is especially noteworthy. The review panel’s results, published in 2009 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concluded that the available data “does not support a causal relationship between styrene exposure and any type of human cancer.” Source[3]

Additional research has also been published, including a 2013 update of a study of workers in the reinforced plastics and composites industry that found no increase in styrene-related deaths for any cause of death and a study with similar findings by the University of Alabama’s School of Public Health. Sources[4] Furthermore, scientific results show that there is no correlation between exposure to styrene and endocrine system disruption or developmental or reproductive toxicity. Exposure does not show any harm to birth rates or the health of newborn babies. Sources[5]

Studies have shown that long-term exposure at levels above 30 parts per million has been identified as possibly contributing to hearing loss. Source[6]

More information about the comprehensive research conducted on styrene and health effects is available here from the Styrene Information & Research Center.

Regulations

In the United States, as in most industrialized countries, strict regulations are in place to protect worker health. In 1989, OSHA established a safe exposure standard for styrene of 50 parts per million (ppm) over an eight-hour day. In 1992, a U.S. appeals court voided the 1989 rulemaking, and the pre-1989 level of 100 ppm was reinstated as the enforceable limit. However, SIRC and other associations representing manufacturers of styrene-based products encouraged their member companies to continue to comply with the 50-ppm exposure limit. Additionally, several states independently adopted and enforce a 50-ppm exposure limit. In 1996, OSHA endorsed a styrene industry proposal to voluntarily meet a 50 ppm exposure level. Source[7] In 2011, based on new industry-sponsored research, SIRC (along with the European Styrene Producers Association and the Japanese Styrene Industry Association) recommended that the guideline be reduced to 20 ppm. Industry’s ongoing voluntary compliance ensures that workers are protected from the possible effects of styrene exposure, such as drowsiness or eye irritation.

Safety and Handling

For more information on safety and handling information about styrene, visit the styrene page of the Chemical Information section of the International Council of Chemical Associations’ Global Product Strategy website.

For information on handling a chemical spill or emergency related to styrene, contact CHEMTREC. CHEMTREC serves as a round-the-clock resource for obtaining immediate emergency response information for accidental chemical releases.

DID YOU KNOW?

Since it was founded in 1987, the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC) has invested more than $25 million in new, and often cutting-edge research as part of its commitment to product stewardship. This research enhances our understanding of the possible health effects of exposure to styrene and helps improve workplace safety.