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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Styrene

What is it?

Styrene is a flammable liquid that is used to make polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex. It occurs naturally in some fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, and beverages.

Styrene is used to make:

  • Insulation
  • Pipes 
  • Automobile parts
  • Printing cartridges and copy machine toner
  • Food containers
  • Packaging
  • Carpet backing
  • Luggage
  • Shoes
  • Toys
  • Floor waxes and polishes

Cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust contain styrene.

See also: Factories Fuel Industry Homes Cancer Learning and Developmental Disabilities Reproductive Health

Where is Styrene found?

  • Consumer products – cigarettes, and many packaging, household, and building products
  • Air – emissions from styrene-based products, cigarettes, vehicle exhaust, and copy machines
  • Food and water – containing styrene from naturally occurring sources or contamination

How can I be exposed to Styrene?

Styrene commonly enter(s) the body through:

Eating
Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Swallowing food or water contaminated with styrene. Styrene may leach from polystyrene containers used for food, but the levels are low.
Inhalation
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Smoking cigarettes, or breathing cigarette smoke, secondhand smoke, or emissions from vehicles, copy machines, or building materials
Touching
Skin contact
  • Touching products made with styrene

What happens when I am exposed to Styrene?

Short-term:
Exposure to styrene can cause:

  • Irritation to the eyes, skin, and nose
  • Gastrointestinal effects
  • Respiratory effects

Long-term:
Long-term exposure to styrene can cause:

  • Central nervous system and kidney effects
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Hearing loss
  • Balance and concentration problems
  • Cancer

Who is at risk for exposure to Styrene?

  • Consumers
    • Some food, packaging materials, and consumer and building products contain styrene.
  • Cigarette smokers
    • Cigarette smoke and secondhand smoke contain styrene.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to styrene, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke tobacco products?
  • Do you eat food packaged in polystyrene containers?
  • Do you use well water?
  • Do you live near an industrial facility, hazardous waste site, landfill, or incinerator that handles styrene?
  • How frequently are you exposed to vehicle exhaust?
  • Do you live near a busy highway?
  • Do you have a home copy machine?
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Routinely test your well water for styrene.
  • If your well water contains styrene levels above EPA’s drinking water advisory levels: 
  • Limit your time near idling cars, trucks, or buses.
  • Use a home copy machine only when needed and turn it off when finished.
  • Keep the room with the copier well ventilated.
  • Don’t let children play near gas stations, idling cars, or busy highways.
  • Keep children away from products that contain styrene.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
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