Styrene is a colourless, oily liquid that has a sweet smell. It is known by many other names, including vinylbenzene, ethenylbenzene, cinnamene, phenylethylene, styrole, styropol, and UN 2055. It is a monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and is highly flammable. Styrene boils at 145°C and freezes at -30.6°C. More than 15 million metric tons of styrene are produced each year. Styrene has been classified as “probably carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARD) [1,2,3,4]

Uses [1,3]

More than half of the styrene produced is made into polystyrene. The rest is used to make products such as pipes, fibreglass, car parts, food containers, rubber, plastic, carpet backing, and plastic. Specifically, it can be used to make acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene copolymer, a hard plastic used in engineering; styrene-butadiene rubber that is used in automobile tires; and styrene-acrylonitrile copolymer for improved heat resistance

Routes of Exposure [2]

The primary route of styrene exposure is via inhalation

Occupational exposure sources include the manufacturing of reinforced plastics, and the addition of the liquid in construction materials.

Workers can be exposed to the chemical through fibreglass processes.

Low levels of styrene exposure can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meat.

The general population are exposed to styrene via car exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, and photocopiers.

Health Effects

Styrene poisoning affects a range of systems including the integumentary and respiratory systems.

Acute Effects [2]

Severity of symptoms depend on the level and type of exposure.

Acute exposure to the liquid can cause eye, skin and upper respiratory tract irritation.

Styrene exposure can also cause headaches, dizziness and nausea.

Inhalation of the chemical may result in “styrene sickness” that can cause: headaches, vomiting, weakness, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and ataxia.


Chronic Effects [2]

Styrene is toxic to multiple body systems. Long-term exposure to the chemical could result in hearing loss, peripheral neuropathy, altered liver function, and abnormal ECG patterns. It can also cause CNS depression, which can result in decreased concentration, decreased reaction times, and the impairment of short-term memory. Chronic exposure can also result in hepatoxicity and dyschromatopsia.


~h2First Aid Measures [6]

  • Ingestion: DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. Give victim large amounts of water. Immediately contact a medical professional.
  • Skin contact: Immediately wash affected area with plenty of soap and water for at least 15 minutes. Remove contaminated clothing and shoes; do not re-wear until they has been thoroughly de-contaminated.
  • Eye contact: Rinse eyes for at least 15 minutes; don’t forget to wash under both upper and lower eyelids. Immediate medical attention is required.
  • Inhaled: Take victim to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. If they are not breathing (and you are qualified), perform CPR with the aid of a pocket mask or one-way valve. Contact a medical professional immediately. 
  • General: Never administer anything by mouth to an unconscious, exposed person.

  • Exposure Controls/Personal Protection [6]

  • Engineering controls: Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure. Ensure there is adequate ventilation. Whenever possible, material should be handled in a laboratory, underneath a fume hood.

  • Personal protection: Impervious protective clothing, including gloves, boots, a lab coat, and an apron or coveralls. Wear appropriate eye protection. For specifications on PPE, check regulations in your jurisdiction. 

Regulation [7]

~h2United States:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) concentration for styrene of 100ppm.

Australia [8]

Safe Work Australia has set an 8-hour time TWA for styrene of 50ppm, with a Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) of 100ppm.