WASHINGTON (Sept. 27, 10:30 p.m. ET) — Arguing that their companies and the thousands of workers they employ are in serious jeopardy, a coalition of small- and medium-sized composites and boat building manufacturers is asking for an independent review by the National Academy of Sciences of the decision by the federal government to list styrene as a chemical that is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
“A definitive carcinogenicity hazard assessment on styrene from the respected and independent National Academy of Sciences would go a long way towards settling the scientific controversy and allow the Administration to provide responsible guidance to workers and members of the public,” said the coalition in its Sept. 26 letter to White House Chief of Staff William Daley.
“Recent actions taken by the Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program ... have placed us and thousands of other owners and managers in the untenable position of having to explain to employees and plant neighbors both that we use styrene safely, and that HHS' action is ill-founded and irresponsible,” said the letter from the American Composites Manufacturers Association that was signed by 21 companies.
“Left unchallenged, we expect the ... listing ... to have the long-term effect of moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico, China, France or one of the many other countries that have not taken such an obviously misleading position regarding styrene,” said the letter.
The request for an NAS review by the Arlington, Va.-based ACMA is the latest salvo in the continuing effort by the business community to reverse the federal government's three-month-old decision to list styrene as a carcinogen.
The Styrene Information and Research Center challenged the ruling six days after it was made in early June. SIRC filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a summary judgment to vacate the ruling made by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program in its 112th annual Report on Carcinogens.
That court action is expected to continue at least until late next March.
The American Chemistry Council also has expressed its concern with the ruling, noting that the Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of polystyrene for food packaging.
Styrene is also used to manufacture a number of products ranging from boats to residential tubs and showers, to non-rusting highway bridges, and ballistic shields.
The composites industry said an independent NAS review is needed because there is a conflict “both within and outside of the federal government regarding the health effects of styrene.”
Just one example: another group within HHS—its Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, in direct contrast to the NTP position, has said that styrene ‘may be a weak carcinogen.'
In addition, the letter argued that “HHS failed to ‘fairly and transparently' address the breadth of scientific data available on styrene, the preponderance of which ... shows no causal link between styrene and cancer.”
For example, Health Canada concluded in 1994 that styrene is non-toxic, and does not need to regulated. Similarly, scientists in the European Union have said that styrene should not be classified, labeled or regulated as a carcinogen.
The letter also pointed out that “the public confusion” has been further “exacerbated ... by conflicting statements by HHS staff” relative to styrene.
HHS guidance documents, for example, say that a listing of a chemical in the Report on Carcinogens does not indicate that anyone's health is actually at risk. In addition, HHS scientists have said they are not advocating that workers or consumers change their behavior in the wake of the styrene ruling, but only to “be aware of” the purported cancer link for styrene.
“HHS staff has provided no guidance as to what precautions or other actions workers should take once they ‘become aware,'” said the letter. “Overall, we find this behavior to be highly irresponsible.”
“Clearly, it is in the public interest to get the science right, and we ask that the Administration commission an NAS study as soon as possible,” said the letter. “The future of our companies and the thousands of workers whom we employ are in serious jeopardy if this matter is not addressed in a sensible scientific forum.”