Working With Styrene

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When most people hear the word “styrene”, they think first about the consumer scare in recent years of chemical leaching into our food and drink via plastic cups and containers. But the real threat – one that affects millions of people on a daily basis – is found at work, not in the kitchen.

Styrene is a VOC (volatile organic compound), a clean, colorless liquid produced for commercial use from petroleum and natural gas by-products. Styrene occurs naturally in various plants but is primarily a synthetic material, man-made for industrial use. (2) Used extensively in facilities that create plastic, latex and resins, styrene can also be found in the office, as a result of photocopier and laser printer use. (3) While low levels of styrene, such as those released by office machines, are more easily managed, in manufacturing, exposure levels are far more concentrated and can affect indoor air quality in potentially harmful ways.

The negative health effects of styrene exposure for employees depend on the absorption level and length of contact. While most styrene production facilities have implemented safety measurers to limit exposure, on-going attention is needed to keep personnel safe. For the majority of workers, inhalation is the primary means of exposure (4), though dermal contact and ingestion are possible. Acute, short-term, contact can result in irritation to eyes, skin, and respiratory tract (to name only a few reactions) (1) while chronic, long-term, exposure can result in negative reactions to the central nervous system such as headache, weakness, fatigue, confusion and depression (5).

Despite the fact that numerous industries that employ styrene use – electronics, transportation, insulation, rubber and plastics are usually compliant with OSHA exposure limits, enhanced safety practices are always recommended. For superior ventilation systems and products, please contact an Air Systems Inc. specialist to give you a thorough clean air analysis to ensure your workers are safe and breathing clean air.