Composites trade group fights styrene listing

The American Composites Manufacturers Association and the Styrene Information and Research Center have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to delay approval of the proposed listing of styrene as a carcinogen.

The American Composites Manufacturers. Assn. (ACMA, Arlington, Va.) reported on Dec. 15 that representatives of ACMA and the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC) met on Dec. 13 with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and members of her staff. ACMA and SIRC asked Sebelius to delay approval of the proposed listing of styrene as a “reasonably anticipated” carcinogen until her department can conduct a quick and transparent “double check” of the science and policy behind the listing. If the double check confirms industry assertions regarding a flawed assessment, the industry would ask HHS to return styrene to the HHS National Toxicology Program (NTP) for a valid reassessment.

Staff at the HHS NTP have recommended that HHS add styrene to the NTP Report on Carcinogens (RoC) as a “reasonably anticipated carcinogen.” Under the Occupational Safety and Health Admin.’s (OSHA) Hazard Communications Standard, manufacturers who market substances listed as reasonably anticipated carcinogens in the RoC must provide cancer warnings on material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and packaging labels.

Producers of styrene maintain that the large database on styrene health effects does not support a cancer concern. In 2009, investigators working on behalf of the European Union (EU) and an unrelated “blue ribbon” epidemiology panel separately determined that styrene is not likely to cause cancer in humans. Further, recent styrene industry research reportedly provides evidence in support of the hypothesis that styrene-induced mouse lung tumors are not relevant to human risk assessment. ACMA maintains that its current Risk Communications Program can help composites industry members effectively reassure their employees and plant neighbors in regard to styrene health risks.

At the Dec. 13 meeting with HHS, industry representatives argued that a delay and double check on the proposed listing are warranted because a cancer listing for styrene would cause unwarranted concern among employees and community members, lead to legal action by disgruntled workers and plant neighbors and make it difficult for composite manufacturers to obtain liability insurance and bank loans. The listing also would contradict the EU’s recent determination that styrene is an unlikely cancer risk factor. Further, they maintained that there were several material flaws in the NTP review process, including a lack of full consideration of the data, a lack of peer review of critical findings by NTP’s styrene panel and a lack of timely consideration of industry scientific input.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Sebelius commented that she understood the economic and small business impacts of a listing, but she noted that HHS must act to protect the health of the workers in these companies. Sebelius agreed to fully consider the industry’s request for a delay and double check and to inform the industry of her decision before the RoC is issued.

The meeting with Sebelius came on the heels of an intensive industry advocacy campaign targeted not only at HHS, but the U.S. Congress, the White House, the Small Business Admin. and other agencies as well.

A request for assistance from ACMA member and pultrusion specialist Strongwell (Bristol, Va.) to the office of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) helped secure the HHS meeting.
Many other industry members have supported this effort through the Composites Advocacy Program and ACMA-PAC and have participated in styrene fly-ins, a Congressional plant tour program, and letter-writing campaigns.

ACMA and its styrene coalition partners are considering future actions, which include using the appropriations process to block funding for implementation; asking Congress to mandate an outside scientific review by the National Academy of Sciences; asking the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee to conduct hearings; and taking legal action to block the HHS action.