U.S. Congressional styrene hearings highlight composites industry input

Two executives from American Composites Manufacturers Assn. member companies warned the U.S. Congress on April 25 that small manufacturing concerns across the U.S. — and hundreds of thousands of jobs — could be at risk unless the federal government “restores its reliance on credible science in the risk assessment process” and reverses the listing of the industrial chemical styrene as a “reasonably anticipated” carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 2011 Report on Carcinogens (RoC).

Two executives from American Composites Manufacturers Assn. (ACMA, Arlington, Va.) member companies warned the U.S. Congress on April 25 that small manufacturing concerns across the U.S. — and hundreds of thousands of jobs — could be at risk unless the federal government “restores its reliance on credible science in the risk assessment process” and reverses the listing of the industrial chemical styrene as a “reasonably anticipated” carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 2011 Report on Carcinogens (RoC).

John Barker, environmental health and safety manager for pultrusion specialist Strongwell Corp. (Bristol, Va.), spoke at a joint hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, and the House Committee on Small Business’ Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology. “The listing of styrene in the RoC is of significant concern,” he noted. “For one thing, the idea of ‘reasonably anticipated’ has caused great confusion for our employees, their families and members of the community. People are believing the flawed science used in the assessment of styrene and it makes it difficult to maintain an open and fair relationship with the community.”

Bonnie Webster, VP of Monroe Industries in Avon, N.Y., deplored the listing’s negative impact on access to liability coverage. “Currently there is only one company that will insure us,” she declared. “Should we be dropped by that company, like many other composites companies whose coverage has been terminated by their long-term carriers, it will be impossible for us to continue to make an affordable product.” Her company makes cast polymer for custom showers and vanity tops, and she noted that it prides itself on reducing the environmental impact of its products. But she warned that those good efforts could be undercut by the RoC classification. “We are very concerned that the listing of styrene could make it very difficult for us to stay in business,” she said. Both Barker and Webster noted that styrene has been used safely and responsibly by the composites industry for more than six decades. “Our industry is asking that Congress reform the way the federal government analyzes the risk of chemicals to make it a more transparent, inclusive and scientific process,” Webster summed up. Added Barker, “Our association is proposing modest, common-sense reforms ... which would dramatically improve the scientific quality of the RoC.” Also testifying at the hearing were NTP director Linda Birnbaum, who defended the RoC listing process, and styrene industry toxicologist Jim Bus. Bus spoke on behalf of the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), of which his employer (The Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich.) is a member. He said, “A thorough assessment of the RoC process is needed, ideally through a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review,” and added that the “current process lacks explicit criteria to ensure consistency and transparency. NTP fails to use many scientific best practices, does not meet minimum standards of peer review and, going forward, has reduced transparency by not providing written responses to public comments.”