WASHINGTON (Nov. 9, 4 p.m. ET) — Fifty members of the U.S. House of Representatives have sent a letter to the White House, asking for a National Academy of Sciences review of the chemical styrene.
The letter, sent Nov. 9 to White House Chief of Staff William Daley, comes six weeks after 21 companies from the American Composites Manufacturers Association sent a similar letter to Daley, saying that without a review by NAS of the safety of styrene their companies and the thousands of workers they employ are in jeopardy.
Styrene has been classified as a human carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicity Program.
ACMA members, largely boat builders and composite manufacturers, said in their letter Sept. 26 that, “left unchallenged,” the listing of styrene as a carcinogen would “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.”
The 12 Democrats and 38 Republicans who signed the Congressional letter told Daley that their request for an NAS study “is driven by the conflict of authorities both within and outside of the federal government regarding the health effects of styrene, and [the] public confusion that has occurred as a result of the listing June 10th of styrene as a ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.'”
“A definite styrene carcinogenicity assessment from the .... NAS would ... allow the administration to base its regulatory decisions and hazard identification on the best available information,” said the letter, which urged the White House to have NAS conduct “an independent and rigorous review of the potential health effects” of styrene.
“The hundreds of thousands of American workers whose jobs depend on styrene are indebted to Congressmen [Donald] Manzullo and [Tim] Ryan for their steadfast leadership in trying to correct an unfortunate ruling based on bad science,” said Tom Dobbins, the chief staff executive of ACMA and Jack Snyder, executive director of the Styrene Information and Research Center, in a joint statement.
Several privately held second-generation family companies already are experiencing the fallout from the federal government's classification of styrene as a human carcinogen.
Some are experiencing higher workers' compensation costs, others are delaying investments because of the uncertainty, and many have a deep concern and belief that it will force companies to move their manufacturing outside of the U.S., killing the domestic composites industry.
For example, Lori Miles-Luchak, president of Portland-based Miles Fiberglass and Composites, said that when the company's workers' compensation insurance came up for renewal this year, they were dropped by their insurance carrier and ended up paying virtually twice as much annually—$144,000 compared to the previous $73,000.
“I do believe it was the NTP listing because the letter said we hadn't done styrene testing,” said Miles-Luchak, who is also president of ACMA. “This is quite concerning. It may be our industry today, but who will it be next?”
Additionally, in an economy where unemployment remains above nine percent, the classification of styrene as a carcinogen by the federal government has caused some composite manufacturers to delay investments.
“We are reluctant to make investments” because of the uncertainty, said Steve Linneman, president of RL Industries, Inc., West Chester, Ohio. “We employ 81 and I see the potential to bring on another 40 people” if the uncertainty can be cleared.
Bonnie Webster, vice president of sales and marketing at Monroe Industries Inc. in Avon, N.Y., agreed.
“We had a really good year and are in need of an addition,” she said. “But we are not willing to make an investment because of the uncertainty.”
Another composites manufacturer that completed a $1 million investment earlier this year added that his company wouldn't be making that investment today. “Had I known this [ruling] was coming, I would have stopped all investment until clarity was back in the marketplace,” said Wayne Spidahl, general manager at the Grand Forks, N.D., plant of Nordic Fiberglass Inc., which is based in Warren, Minn.
Still, he said that “we employ over 100 and have the potential to increase that by over 50 percent in the next two years as the economy improves.”
However, the long-term outlook is gloomier.
“As this thing unfolds, and if nothing changes, it will force us to look” to manufacture elsewhere, said Spidahl. “If the classification of styrene stays in its current form, it will kill the industry [in the United States]. There won't be any industry left. I don't think there is any doubt about it. All of it is going to go to Mexico because we won't be able to operate” in the United States.
In addition to the requests from the 50 members of the House of Representatives and the ACMA for an NAS review, the SIRC has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a summary judgment to vacate the ruling. But that court action is expected to drag on until at least late March.
SIRC has also created a website, www.youknowstyrene.org, to educate consumers and communities about the health and safety of styrene, and how many jobs in the U.S. are styrene-related.
According to the SIRC website, more than 5,000 manufacturing plants in the U.S. produce or fabricate styrene products and employ about 90,000 material workers. SIRC said that as many as 750,000 jobs in the U.S. are related to the production, fabrication, installation or sales of these goods.
Styrene is used to manufacture products ranging from recreational boats to residential bathtubs and showers, building insulation and medical products, pollution control equipment to non-rusting highway bridges, and ballistic shields for the military.
As the plastic polystyrene, it is also used for food packaging. However, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of PS for food packaging.
Across the globe, Health Canada concluded in 1994 that styrene is nontoxic and does not need to be regulated. Similarly, scientists in the European Union have said styrene should not be classified, labeled or regulated as a carcinogen.
But for U.S. composite manufacturers, it is quite a different story right now.
“The cancer warnings are out there and will remain out there until HHS changes its mind,” said John Schweitzer, head of legislative affairs for ACMA. “Even if it is scientifically incorrect, if people are concerned about the cancer issues, I think all the manufacturing jobs [related to composites manufacturing] are at stake.”