US styrene group asks Congress to review carcinogen finding

25 April 2012 19:40  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US styrene industry officials on Wednesday told Congress that a federal government finding that styrene likely causes cancer was the result of a flawed process that lacks scientific credibility and needs a congressional overhaul.

James Bus, Dow Chemical’s director of external technology, toxicology and environmental research, told the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight that there are multiple scientific shortcomings with how the federal government evaluates the health impact of chemical substances.

Speaking for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Bus said that the federal National Toxicology Program (NTP) “falls well short of producing evidence-based listing decisions”.

NTP is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Bus and other styrene industry officials testified about the business and commercial consequences of the NTP’s ruling of last year that styrene probably causes cancer in humans.

In June 2011, the NTP issued its 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC), in which styrene is characterised as “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen.

Styrene industry interests, including SIRC, immediately challenged the NTP decision and filed suit in federal court seeking to reverse what the styrene producers group termed a “scientifically bankrupt” decision.

Later in June last year, the US District Court in Washington, DC, declined to issue a temporary stay order against the NTP, but the court said it would consider the SIRC’s request for a permanent injunction. That case is pending.

As a final court ruling in the matter could be years away, styrene industry officials asked Congress to order an immediate and comprehensive scientific review of the NTP decision on styrene by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). In December last year Congress authorised funding for NAS to conduct that review, which is expected to get under way sometime this year.

The NAS is a taxpayer-funded agency that advises the US government on science and technical issues, and its findings typically influence Congress.

Bus charged that the NTP chemicals review process lacks formal scientific structure and, by the NTP’s own account, only includes external scientific input “as needed”.

In addition, he said, NTP’s RoC process “lacks adequate checks and balances, including peer review” and “fails to employ scientific best practices”.

Executives of companies that use styrene as a feedstock told the House panel that if allowed to stand, the NTP’s determination of styrene as a possible carcinogen would force them out of business and drive some 250,000 US manufacturing jobs to other countries.

While awaiting the outcome of the NAS review of NTP's styrene ruling, Bus and other industry officials are asking Congress to order a full-scale review of NTP procedures in order to ensure that future RoC determinations on any substances are based on sound science.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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