A government report classified styrene as a possible human carcinogen.

A recent US government report has warned that exposure to styrene heightens the risk of cancer, but questions remain about who might be at risk.

Styrene, a chemical compound derived from crude oil, was subject of a health warning from the Department of Health and Human ServicesNational Toxicology Program (NTP), which said that styrene is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.

NTP scientists said last month that they believe styrene metabolizes when it comes in contact with the human body, bonding with oxygen to form styrene oxide, a chemical that has the ability to alter DNA and cause cancer.

What is styrene?

The chemical is also known as vinyl benzene and is a derivative of benzene. It is a colorless oily liquid that evaporates easily.

With approximately 15 billion pounds of the chemical produced annually, styrene can be found in many commonly used products, including

  • Plastic, e.g. plastic utensils, food containers
  • Toys
  • Packaging
  • Rubber
  • Insulation
  • Fiberglass
  • Pipes
  • Automobile and boat parts
  • Carpet backing
  • Cigarette filters

Workers in certain professions might be more at risk because of their occupational exposure to styrene. These include auto mechanics and workers in boat repair shops who cut a lot of fiberglass, slather epoxy resin and handle rubber hoses, but it all depends on the length and amount of exposure.

Styrene producers are blasting the report as premature and lacking proof, pointing to a decision last month by European Union health regulators, who said they did not believe styrene poses a cancer risk in humans.

Source: Reuters

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