Styrene Industry Accuses HHS of ‘Willful Ignorance’ Over Carcinogen Listing

by | May 27, 2011

U.S. styrene industry bodies the Styrene Information and Research Center and the American Composites Manufacturers Association have written a letter urging secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sebelius to reclassify styrene as non-carcinogenic.

The letter asks Sebelius to remove a proposed listing of styrene in the upcoming 12th Report on Carcinogens authored by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an inter-agency program administered by HHS. The bodies also want to schedule the substance for a re-review in the next edition.

The proposed passage would list styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Both groups claim that this listing would ignore scientific evidence to the contrary.

The groups claim that European Union regulators and a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study have determined that styrene does not represent a human cancer concern.

The industry appeal follows a bipartisan letter sent to the secretary on May 11, signed by 63 congressmen – 47 Republicans and 16 Democrats – which also claimed there were serious deficiencies in the styrene review.

The NTP’s recommended listing is “based on a selective reading of the available scientific information that ignored a large number of important studies that did not support the staff position. Not only was this information ignored, it was effectively excluded from the information presented to the NTP’s Board of Scientific Counselors [for review],” according to the letter from Jack Snyder, executive director of the Styrene Information and Research Center, and John Schweitzer, senior director of government affairs for the American Composites Manufacturers Association.

“NTP’s blind reliance on its process and willful ignorance of the entire body of science is a direct threat to the employment of over 750,000 people who work in the thousands of small and medium-sized companies that use styrene and styrene-based materials to make products that are used everyday by virtually every American,” the letter reads.

Styrene-based materials, including polystyrene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, styrene-butadiene rubber, styrene-butadiene latex and styrene composites, are used to make a wide variety of products that extend the life of transportation infrastructure, increase fuel economy, produce green energy and prevent pollution, the industry bodies said.

Styrene also occurs naturally in plants, including cinnamon, strawberries, coffee and wheat, according to the styrene groups.

A recent industry-commissioned study found that polystyrene cups, plates and sandwich containers use significantly less energy and water than comparable paper-based or corn-based alternatives.

Researchers modeled energy consumption, water use, solid waste (by weight and volume) and greenhouse gas emissions for each product resulting from production, transportation and disposal.

Picture credit: Crispin Semmens

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