Nav: Home

Limited evidence that styrene causes cancer

February 14, 2017

Limited evidence that styrene, a high volume plastics chemical and animal carcinogen, causes cancer in humans

In 2011, the styrene, a high volume plastics chemical and animal carcinogen, was the focal point in a 'poison scandal' in the Danish media; but now a registry study of more than 72,000 employees from more than 400 companies that have been exposed to styrene during production of glassfibre reinforced plastics, has not found an increased incidence of a wide range of cancer types. The Department of Occupational Medicine at Aarhus University is behind the study.

Employees in the glass fibre reinforced plastics who have worked with the chemical styrene do not have - as previously feared - an increased incidence of cancer of the oesophagus, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, bladder or a wide range of other types of cancer. On the other hand, they may possibly have an increased risk of developing what is known as myeloid leukaemia and nasal and paranasal cancer.

This is the conclusion of the most comprehensive study so far, which has been prepared by the Department of Occupational Medicine at Aarhus University. The study was recently published in the American scientific journal EPIDEMIOLOGY. It covers 72,292 employees who worked for one of the 443 small and medium-sized companies in Denmark that have used styrene for the production of e.g. wind turbines or pleasure boats during the period 1968-2012.

The Danish survey was initiated by a 'poison scandal' back in 2011, where the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende gave voice to 20 former employees of the company LM Wind Power in Lunderskov near Kolding (formerly LM Glasfiber). All of the employees were seriously ill, allegedly due to interaction with styrene, which was used in windmill production.

They reported everything from inflamed boils the size of golf balls to respiratory problems, memory loss and fear of cancer, providing what was - together with the subsequent political debate, including discussions about completely prohibiting styrene - an obvious starting point for investigating the long-term effects, explains professor at the Department of Occupational Medicine at Aarhus University, Henrik A. Kolstad:

"Via several national registers we have identified the relevant companies and their employees, before coupling this information with the Danish Cancer Register. We have thus compared occurrences of different types of cancer in 72,000 employees, against the risk of these diseases in the general population who have not come into contact with styrene," says Henrik A. Kolstad.

"It is important to know for present and former workers exposed to styrene that they are unlikely to have become ill by doing their job, if they have developed cancer of the oesophagus, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, bladder or a wide range of other types of cancer. This is also new and important knowledge in the USA, where styrene was added to the list of carcinogenic substances in 2011," says Henrik A. Kolstad.

In relation to the types of cancer where the study shows a possible increased risk, i.e. nasal and paranasal cancer and myeloid leukaemia, Henrik A. Kolstad emphasises that more investigation needs to be done to determine if styrene is the actual cause of the employee's disease.

This must now be verified with detailed studies of the employees who have become ill, for example by elucidating if they were directly involved in the production and the styrene levels they were exposed to.

Henrik A. Kolstad emphasises that the sins of the past are the focal point here, and that the working environment has changed significantly since then, so that work with styrene in the reinforced plastics industry in Denmark today takes place in closed spaces with strict exhaust ventilation requirements. As a researcher he also rejects the idea that people can 'just' use alternatives to styrene. This was a view that some of LM Wind Power's competitors promoted when the criticism of the company was at its highest:

"It is a case of risk assessment: Should you use styrene, which might have serious - though unconfirmed - side effects in the form of cancer, or should you use epoxy products, which has less serious but well-documented side effects in the form of eczema?" as Henrik A. Kolstad puts it. He expects the follow-up research results to be ready during the spring of 2017.
-end-
The research results - more information

  • The study is an epidemiological follow-up study that utilises a range of registers of the Danish population, including labour market and health registers.

  • The survey has been carried out in collaboration between the Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital, Department of Public Health and Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Aarhus University, as well as the Danish Cancer Society's Centre for Cancer Research.

  • The study is financed by the Danish Working Environment Research Fund, which is administered by the Danish Working Environment Authority,

  • Direct link to the abstract in EPIDEMIOLOGY: http://journals.lww.com/epidem/Abstract/2017/03000/Cancer_Incidence_in_Workers_Exposed_to_Styrene_in.20.aspx


Aarhus University

Related Cancer Articles:

Radiotherapy for invasive breast cancer increases the risk of second primary lung cancer
East Asian female breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy have a higher risk of developing second primary lung cancer.
Cancer genomics continued: Triple negative breast cancer and cancer immunotherapy
Continuing PLOS Medicine's special issue on cancer genomics, Christos Hatzis of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., USA and colleagues describe a new subtype of triple negative breast cancer that may be more amenable to treatment than other cases of this difficult-to-treat disease.
Metabolite that promotes cancer cell transformation and colorectal cancer spread identified
Osaka University researchers revealed that the metabolite D-2-hydroxyglurate (D-2HG) promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition of colorectal cancer cells, leading them to develop features of lower adherence to neighboring cells, increased invasiveness, and greater likelihood of metastatic spread.
UH Cancer Center researcher finds new driver of an aggressive form of brain cancer
University of Hawai'i Cancer Center researchers have identified an essential driver of tumor cell invasion in glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer that can occur at any age.
UH Cancer Center researchers develop algorithm to find precise cancer treatments
University of Hawai'i Cancer Center researchers developed a computational algorithm to analyze 'Big Data' obtained from tumor samples to better understand and treat cancer.
New analytical technology to quantify anti-cancer drugs inside cancer cells
University of Oklahoma researchers will apply a new analytical technology that could ultimately provide a powerful tool for improved treatment of cancer patients in Oklahoma and beyond.
Radiotherapy for lung cancer patients is linked to increased risk of non-cancer deaths
Researchers have found that treating patients who have early stage non-small cell lung cancer with a type of radiotherapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy is associated with a small but increased risk of death from causes other than cancer.
Cancer expert says public health and prevention measures are key to defeating cancer
Is investment in research to develop new treatments the best approach to controlling cancer?
UI Cancer Center, Governors State to address cancer disparities in south suburbs
The University of Illinois Cancer Center and Governors State University have received a joint four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help both institutions conduct community-based research to reduce cancer-related health disparities in Chicago's south suburbs.
Leading cancer research organizations to host international cancer immunotherapy conference
The Cancer Research Institute, the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy, the European Academy of Tumor Immunology, and the American Association for Cancer Research will join forces to sponsor the first International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel in New York, Sept.

Related Cancer Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".