Fact Sheet: Styrene


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Styrene
Category: Organic
MCL: 100 PPB
Source: Manufacture of polymers, plastics, paints
Effect: Fatigue; liver and nerve tissue damagee; cancer
Followup: Treat and retest quarterly
Treatment: Granular activated charcoal

Styrene is an oily organic liquid with an aromatic, almost floral odor. Initially, styrene was used primarily in the synthetic rubber industry, but it is currently used as a building block for polymers in making plastics, resins, coatings, and paints. Production of styrene was 10.7 billion lbs in 1993. It is released into the environment by emissions and effluents from its production and its use in polymer manufacture. Consumers may be exposed to styrene through contact with resin products used in fiberglass boat construction and repair, and in auto body fillers. Styrene may also leach from polystyrene containers used for food products.

From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA’s Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, styrene releases to land and water totalled over 2 million lbs. These releases were primarily from adhesives and sealants industries. The largest releases occurred in Texas. The largest direct releases to water occurred in Louisiana.

What happens to Styrene when it is released to the environment? Styrene released to water rapidly evaporates and is degraded by microbes. It does not bind well to soils and may leach to groundwater, but its rapid break down minimizes this process. It does not tend to accumulate in aquatic life.

Short-term: EPA has found styrene to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: nervous system effects such as depression, loss of concentration, weakness, fatigue and nausea.
Long-term: Styrene has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: liver and nerve tissue damage; cancer.

Treat and retest quarterly.

Granular activated charcoal in combination with Packed Tower Aeration.