(From the June 13, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—A decision by the staff at a government agency on styrene may not cause big problems for the rubber industry, but it certainly has the potential to do so.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services soon will issue its 12th Report of Carcinogens, listing substances that are known to cause cancer in humans, or are “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.” The last report in 2005 put 58 “agents” on the first list, and 188 as potential cancer-causers.
The list already includes a variety of chemicals used in the rubber sector, such as 1,3 butadiene, chloroprene and epichlorohydrin. Diazoaminobenzene, which promotes adhesion of natural rubber to steel, was one of 17 substances added to the last list.
The staff at the HHS' National Toxicology Program is charged with reviewing studies about such chemicals, including reports provided by the industry, like producers of styrene and those who turn the chemical into finished products.
So what happens if the new NTP report declares styrene a carcinogen or a potential cancer-causing agent? It can spark a nasty domino effect, and the industry sectors involved with styrene are nervous about it being added to the list.
There's an added cost to styrene production and use, since much more reporting must be done for employees and communities near such plants. That in itself isn't the issue—the pro-styrene side hasn't made a cost-benefit argument with the issue.
But how would employees at, say, a tire-making facility feel if styrene—a key component in tires—is labeled “cancer-causing.” Concerned, to the say the least. And since the general public has a knee-jerk reaction to news about chemicals, people living near a plant making or using styrene may get agitated.
They also may get lawyers, the kind who constantly are on the lookout for class action opportunities.
NTP putting a label on styrene also raises the possibility of regulatory action.
All this means there is a lot riding on what the HHS decides about styrene. The agency better make the correct call, and it needs to use all the facts at its disposal.
That's the rub. Several industry groups—including the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers—have expressed concern about the NTP's process. Two other trade groups have charged the NTP is ignoring studies that don't support its staff's position, among other complaints.
That's not the way this is supposed to work and, hopefully, that isn't the case. Too much is riding on this decision, for the public and the industries that serve it.