WHO: Styrene Probably Carcinogenic

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) headquartered in Lyon, France, has classified styrene, styrene-6,8-oxide, and quinoline as probably carcinogenic (2A). The agency had previously classified styrene as possibly carcinogenic (2B). The higher classification has consequences for entities and countries that use the IARC as a standard for regulations, as is the case in California.

The new classification is based on a study that appeared in April in the journal The Lancet Oncology. According to the study, workers who manufacture reinforced plastics and thereby come into contact with styrene are more likely to suffer from lymphohaematopoietic malignancies. The authors of the study
therefore regard it as valid proof that exposure to styrene leads to this type of cancer. Nevertheless, they admit that the influence of confounding, bias, or chance cannot be completely excluded.

However, the knowledge gained to date from animal experiments is unambiguous. Researchers conclude that the mechanisms in animals and humans are the same and that the substance has genotoxic effects.

According to the journal Procedia Engineering, about 20 million tons of styrene were produced in 2012. More than half of that amount is processed into polystyrene. Quinoline is an ingredient in the manufacture of medicine and dyes. Styrene oxide is used to manufacture epoxy resins.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) criticized the classification of styrene. It is incomprehensible because the study is based on outdated rules that are now being revised by experts, says Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the ACC. He also questions the timing of the publication, given that the IARC will have a new director at the beginning of 2019, who may well focus on completely different questions.

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