Styrene added to list of possible carcinogens
Published 36 minutes ago
GARDINER HARRIS New York Times
WASHINGTON—The U.S. government added styrene and seven other chemicals to its list of possible human carcinogens in a report delayed for years because of fierce lobbying from manufacturers. Styrene is found in foam coffee cups, food containers and building materials.
The report also strengthened the warning on formaldehyde, saying it was known to cause some kinds of leukemia. Formaldehyde is found in plywood, pressboard and even some hair treatments. Much of the research underlying these warnings comes from industrial settings, where workers are exposed to large amounts of these chemicals. The amount of styrene found in a coffee cup, by contrast, is very small.
But Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that he would advise people — particularly pregnant women and small children — to avoid using polystyrene containers and other products that use styrene.
“I think it’s prudent and sensible, especially in light of this new report, to minimize your exposure,” Dr. Landrigan said.
The warnings are part of the Report on Carcinogens put together by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health. It is the 12th such report. The reports were originally envisioned to be put out annually, but the 11th report was published in 2005, and controversy surrounding the newest report delayed its release for years.
Spokespeople for manufacturers said they would appeal the designations.
“It will unfairly scare workers, plant neighbours and could have a chilling effect on the development of new products,” said Tom Dobbins, a spokesman for the American Composites Manufacturers Association. “Our companies are primarily small businesses, and this could hurt jobs and local economies.”
Styrene, an important component of polystyrene, is used primarily in the manufacture of plastic packaging, thermal insulation in buildings, and disposable cups and food containers. It is also an important component of fiberglass and is found in boats, shower stalls and carpet backing.
Workers at plants that use styrene can be exposed to high levels of the substance. Studies of workers in styrene plants have suggested that they suffer