Styrene Toxicological Overview
What is Styrene?
Styrene (vinyl benzene) is a colorless liquid that evaporates easily and has a
sweet smell. It often contains other chemicals that give it a
sharp, unpleasant smell.
Styrene is widely used to make plastics and rubber.
Products containing styrene include insulation, fiberglass,
plastic pipes, automobile parts, shoes, drinking cups and
other food containers, and carpet backing.
Most of these products contain styrene linked together in a
long chain (polystyrene) as well as unlinked styrene.
Low levels of styrene also occur naturally in a variety of
foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beverages, and meats.
In addition, small amounts of styrene can be transferred to
food from styrene-based packaging material.
What happens to styrene when it
enters the environment?
- Styrene can be found in air, water, and soil after release from
the manufacture, use, and disposal of styrene-based products.
- It is quickly broken down in the air, usually within 1 to 2 days.
- Styrene evaporates from shallow soils and surface water.
Styrene that remains in soil or water may be broken down by
bacteria or other microorganisms.
- Styrene is not expected to build up in animals.
How might I be exposed to styrene?
- Breathing indoor air that is contaminated with styrene
vapors from building materials, cigarette smoke, or use of
- Breathing automobile exhaust.
- Breathing contaminated workplace air or skin contact with
liquid styrene and resins.
- Drinking or bathing in contaminated water.
- Living near industrial facilities or hazardous waste sites.
- Smoking cigarettes or eating food packaged in
How can styrene affect my health?
If you breathe high levels of styrene (more than 1000 times
higher than levels normally found in the environment), you
may experience nervous system effects such as changes in
color vision, tiredness, feeling drunk, slowed reaction time,
concentration problems, or balance problems.
Hearing loss has been observed in animals exposed to very
high concentrations of styrene. Changes in the lining of the
nose and damage to the liver has also been observed in
animals exposed to high concentrations of styrene, but
animals may be more sensitive than humans to these effects.
How likely is styrene to cause
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has
determined that styrene is a possible human carcinogen.
How can styrene affect children?
There are no studies evaluating the effect of styrene
exposure on children or immature animals. It is likely that
children would have the same health effects as adults. We
do not know whether children would be more sensitive than
adults to the effects of styrene.
Studies in workers have examined whether styrene can cause
birth defects or low birth weight; however, the results are
inconclusive. No birth defects were observed in animal
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to
Styrene is a component of tobacco smoke. Avoid
smoking in enclosed spaces like inside the home or car in
order to limit exposure to children and other family members.
Styrene is released during the use of home copiers.
Families should use a home copier only when needed and
turn it off when finished. It is also important to keep the
room with the copier well ventilated.
Is there a medical test to show whether I’ve been
exposed to styrene?
Styrene and its breakdown products can be measured in your
blood, urine, and body tissues. Styrene leaves your body
quickly. If you are tested within one day, the actual amount
of exposure can be estimated. However, it is difficult to
predict the kind of health effects that might develop from
Has the federal government made recommendations to
protect human health?
The EPA has determined that exposure to styrene in drinking
water at concentrations of 20 ppm for 1 day or 2 ppm for
10 days is not expected to cause any adverse effects in a
The EPA has determined that lifetime exposure to 0.1 ppm
styrene is not expected to cause any adverse effects.
The FDA has determined that the styrene concentration in
bottled drinking water should not exceed 0.1 ppm.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
has limited workers’ exposure to an average of 100 ppm for
an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry (ATSDR). 2007. Toxicological Profile for Styrene. (Draft for Public Comment). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
ATSDR can tell you where to find occupational and environmental health
clinics. Their specialists can recognize, evaluate, and treat illnesses
resulting from exposure to hazardous substances. You can also contact your
community or state health or environmental quality department if you have any
more questions or concerns.
To make an appointment with an Evaluair inspector, phone 1 (800) 686-1992, or you can e-mail us via our Contact page.