INSIGHT: Industry goes to court in US over styrene 'carcinogen' tag

30 June 2011 16:50  [Source: ICIS news]

A US court will hold a hearing regarding styreneBy Al Greenwood

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Next week, a US court will consider the chemical industry’s first attempt to have styrene removed from a list of anticipated carcinogens.

The hearing, scheduled for 5 July, could indicate whether the industry will ultimately succeed in having styrene removed from the 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC).

In the ROC, issued on 10 June, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) designated styrene as an ‘anticipated carcinogen’.

On the same day, the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC) and US-based Dart Container sued the department in the US district court in the District of Columbia. The SIRC is a trade group and Dart Container is the world’s largest producer of foam cups.

The two want the court to place a preliminary injunction on the department, which will temporarily prevent it from including styrene in the report. If they succeed, the injunction will remain in place until the styrene group and the department can fully argue their respective sides of the issue.

The court would then consider whether it should impose a permanent injunction on the department.

Tuesday’s hearing will be about the first of these steps: the preliminary injunction.

The styrene group warns that the chemical’s inclusion in the ROC threatens a $28bn (€19bn) industry in the US. Styrene is one of the major feedstocks for the nation’s petrochemical industry, used to make polystyrene (PS), expandable polystyrene (EPS), synthetic rubber and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

These materials are found in everything from computer cases and tyres to insulation and food packaging.

Styrene’s inclusion could make customers more fearful about the safety of styrenics - especially those used in food packaging, according to an affidavit by Michael Levy, the director of the plastics foodservice packaging group for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Such worries from consumers would likely lead to styrenics being replaced by other materials in food packaging, Levy said. “It will precipitate immediate deselection of styrenics from a portion of the market which will not wait for warnings to appear.”

Also, competitors could raise unfounded concerns about the toxicity of products containing sytrenics in an attempt to increase sales, said John Schweitzer, senior director of government affairs for the American Composite Manufacturers Association.

Further dangers could come from regulations, the styrene group said. Styrene’s designation as an ‘anticipated carcinogen’ could create a trickle-down effect among regulators, who would then limit or ban styrene derivatives from certain products.

On top of these concerns are what the styrene group called fatal flaws in the methodology used by the health department. The group accused the department of re-analysing one study and substituting data in another - allegations that the government has denied.

The group also found other problems with the carcinogen designation. Two studies labelled styrene as a ‘possible carcinogen’ and not as an ‘anticipated’ one. US regulations clearly state that a chemical must be considered an ‘anticipated carcinogen’ to be included in the ROC.

According to the group, a designation of ‘possible carcinogen’ does not meet that standard.

“Substances that have only suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity should not be listed at all,” the styrene group said.

The health department disagreed, saying: “This superficial focus on nomenclature ignores the Report on Carcinogens’ listing criteria.”

“It is meaningless to compare different organisations’ use of terms like ‘probable’, ‘may be’, ‘suspected’ or ‘anticipated’ - all of which convey uncertainty - without examining the underlying criteria that generate those descriptions,” the department also said.

The department maintained that it followed a thorough and legitimate process.

Four expert panels considered the evidence, which was assembled in a 461-page background document that referenced 551 scientific studies and other reports, it said.

The decision to include styrene in the report followed more than seven years of scientific review, four rounds of written public comment and two rounds of oral public comment, it said.

Afterwards, the department’s expert panel voted by 8-2 to recommend that styrene should be listed as an ‘anticipated carcinogen’. The dissenting votes wanted styrene to be listed as a ‘known carcinogen’.

Regarding the threat of further regulations, the department said that the report is just one piece of evidence that regulators use in drafting new rules.

Styrene’s inclusion in the carcinogens report will not automatically cause regulators to limit or ban its use, it said. In fact, the department argues that the styrene group failed to show that it suffered any harm from the chemical’s inclusion in the report.

Likewise, Dart Container does not specify any injury it suffered from styrene’s inclusion in the carcinogens report, the department said. “They offer no actual evidence of lost customers, lost sales or lost profits - not even a dime,” it said.

Unless the styrene group can prove actual harm done, the court should not grant the preliminary injunction, it also said.

($1 = €0.69)

For more on styrene, visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645

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