The Styrene Information & Research Center (SIRC), a nonprofit founded in 1987, is the principal source for public information and research on styrene and ethylbenzene. The organization has invested more than $25 million in research on the safety of styrene for consumers and workers. Learn more about SIRC.
FAQs About Styrene
What is styrene?
Styrene is a clear liquid, derived from petroleum and natural gas byproducts, used to make thousands of everyday products.
What products are made with styrene?
A few of the most familiar styrene-based products include:
- Polystyrene foam, used in food service products, packaging materials, and building insulation
- Composite products, used in tub and shower enclosures, automobile body panels, wind turbine parts, and boats
- Consumer electronics
- Transportation components for automobiles, trucks, trains, boats, aircraft, and other vehicles
- Construction materials such as wind-energy parts, water treatment products, and building insulation
- Military personnel and vehicle armor, ballistic protection, fuel cells, gasoline, and other storage tanks
- Protective sports gear, such as bicycle helmets
- Medical/health care applications
How and where does the average person come in contact with styrene?
Most people are exposed to small amounts of styrene every day, whether through motor vehicle exhaust or through trace amounts which may be present in the air or consumer products. Styrene is recognizable by its distinctive odor (sometimes described as floral or sweet at low concentrations) when using certain products such as latexes, paints, auto body patching putties, and polyester resin solutions. In fact, it was first extracted from the Turkish sweetgum tree (also called Levant styrax, after which styrene is named).
Is styrene used as a food additive?
While styrene occurs naturally in some foods, such as strawberries, cinnamon, beef, and beer, styrene is not used as a food additive.
How does using styrene improve manufacturing and benefit common products?
Because of its excellent performance characteristics, quality, and affordability, styrene-based materials have frequently been substituted over the years for other materials to create improved products. For example, boats made from styrenic material are more structurally sound. Packaging is more sanitary and less costly. Vehicles feature lighter components, making them more fuel-efficient, and building insulation quality has greatly improved, helping to cut energy use, thereby reducing cost and global warming gas emissions.
Does styrene cause cancer?
There are no strong or consistent indications that styrene causes any form of cancer in humans. Although some studies suggest that styrene exposed workers may be at increased cancer risk, the human evidence for styrene carcinogenicity is inconclusive. Studies of general population environmental and consumer styrene exposure and cancer are less informative than the worker studies, but the available evidence does not suggest these low exposures are a concern.
Visit Styrene and Human Health at Stryene.org to learn more.
Do styrene manufacturing plants emit an odor?
Styrene’s distinctive odor can be detected even when styrene is present at extremely low levels. People living near facilities that make or use styrene may sometimes notice an odor, which can be detected at levels about 100-fold lower than the recommended worker protection limit. If you have concerns about such odors in your neighborhood, you may wish to contact the plant’s manager or your local health department.
What happens to styrene once it is released into the environment?
Studies have shown that styrene is not likely to occur in drinking water, and extensive research shows that it does not persist or accumulate in the atmosphere or in soils or surface waters.
Do emissions from manufacturing facilities affect neighboring communities or the general population?
The general population is unlikely to experience adverse health outcomes associated with styrene environmental or consumer exposures.
What health concerns should workers exposed to higher amounts of styrene consider?
Hearing loss (oxotoxicity) and cancer are potential concerns for workers, although occupational risks for most workplace exposures are within acceptable ranges. Only workers in specific potential high exposure operations who do not use respiratory protection may exceed acceptable exposure levels for styrene. Noise protection is also important for workers exposed to styrene, as some available human data indicate that hearing loss results from short-term, high simultaneous exposure to noise and styrene.
What is styrene’s impact on the U.S. economy?
In the United States, the diversified styrene industry as a whole provides robust economic contributions to overall jobs and payroll wages, the United States trade balance, and tax revenues. The diversified styrene industry is estimated at $32 billion, with as many as 253,000 related U. S. jobs.
Health-related information is sourced from the 2019 risk assessment published by the peer-reviewed Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews.
Links to styrene-related industry resources:
Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group (PFPG) – plasticfoodservicefacts.com
American Chemistry Council (ACC) – americanchemistry.org
National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) – nmma.org
American Composite Manufacturers Association (ACMA) – acmanet.org
International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers (IISRP) – iisrp.com
EPS Industry Alliance – epsindustry.org