The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has established a schedule for filing motions by both parties in the styrene industry’s legal challenge to the federal government’s designation of styrene as a possible cause of cancer.
The lawsuit was filed by the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC) immediately after an announcement in June by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that styrene had been added to the latest HHS National Toxicology Program (NTP) Report on Carcinogens (RoC) identifying chemicals and biological agents that put people at risk for cancer. In the report. Styrene is categorized as a “reasonably anticipated carcinogen.”
The schedule for filings ordered by the court is:
• Oct. 7, the government’s motion for a summary judgment request the court to rule in the government’s favor;
• Nov. 14, filing of SIRC’s response to the government’s motion and filing SIRC’s motion for a summary judgment;
• Dec. 5, the government’s reply to SIRC’s option to the government’s motion for a summary judge and opposition to SIRC’s summary judgment motion; and
• Dec. 27, SIRC’s response to the government’s opposition filing.
In addition, the court scheduled a status conference with both parties for March 28, 2012.
In July, the court denied a SIRC motion for a preliminary injunction ordering withdrawal of styrene from the RoC report, and the schedule for filings was the next step in the legal process.
Classification of styrene as a possible cancer-causing agent is concern to the pipe rehabilitation industry because styrene is a primary ingredient used to manufacture certain types of pipes and the thermoset resins used in cured-in-place-pipe (CIPP) sewer rehabilitation.
The primary issue raised in litigation and by others opposing the designation is that the science behind the decision to name styrene a possible carcinogen is flawed and that there is no proven link between styrene and cancer in humans and animals.
Rehabilitation industry association NASSCO supports that position and contends that there is no evidence that styrene, as it is currently used in the CIPP process, poses any health hazards to the workers installing the CIPP or to the general public. NASSCO also cited independent studies in North America and Europe that concluded that a styrene exposure health hazard does not exist.
CIPP was introduced 40-years ago and has developed into a billion dollar industry that provides municipalities and private companies an environmentally sound means to rehabilitate failing underground pipeline infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of traditional replacement techniques. However, even though CIPP consumes millions of pounds of styrene per year, it is estimated to represent about five percent of the styrene used for composite manufacturing which is only about 0.5 percent of the total styrene used in North America.
The SIRC lawsuit makes a forceful case for excluding styrene from the RoC. Nevertheless, SIRC, the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), and other organizations dependent on styrene have mobilized active educational and lobbying campaigns and are considering both immediate and long-term ramifications of classifying styrene as a possible carcinogen. One of those is product labeling.
OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) has required warning labels on containers of mixtures that contain more than 0.1 percent of a substance listed in the NTP RoC.
However, the HCS standard may soon be revised based on a United Nations model — referred to as the GHS amendment — that states that a single positive study is not sufficient to require cancer warning labels and that the listing of a substance in the RoC would no longer trigger a requirement for cancer warning labels.
SIRC and ACMA representatives have met with high-level OSHA officials, presented the styrene industry’s perspective and requested that OSHA not take any enforcement action between now and adoption of the GHS Amendment based on the fact that there is no cancer warning label on containers of styrene products. Instead, manufacturers and importers would have both the opportunity and the obligation to perform an appropriate weight-of-evidence assessment and rely on that assessment in classifying their products.
SIRC has reported to its members that the European Union’s most recent weight-of -evidence styrene assessment concluded that styrene is not a carcinogen and subsequent scientific studies have provided further support for that conclusion.
SIRC reported that OSHA agreed to evaluate the request.
In other developments, various industry organizations continue to urge Congress to expand oversight of federal risk-assessment approaches, and are urging reforms in the NTP’s RoC process. Several organizations have launched letter-writing campaigns urging key lawmakers to increase oversight of NTP’s report and asking Congress to reform the process by which NTP prepares its reports.
Regarding CIPP, NASSCO Executive Director Ted DeBoda has emphasized that the “reasonably anticipated carcinogen” classification does not require proof that the substance is dangerous at any concentration higher than normal industry defined threshold levels and that as litigation proceeds, use of styrenated resins in the CIPP rehabilitation industry continues to employee thousands people who provide a safe, valuable method of infrastructure rehabilitation.