California Judge Rules Styrene Safe

Published November 1, 2009

Styrene, an organic compound used widely in food packaging and a variety of plastic products, is not a known carcinogen and therefore cannot be listed among California’s Proposition 65 chemicals “known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm,” a California Superior Court judge has ruled.

The decision is a blow to environmental activists who had lobbied to affix the Prop 65 label to styrene even though no regulatory body anywhere in the world has classified it as a known human carcinogen.

Prop 65 Requirements

Prop 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires warning labels to be affixed to products “known” to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.

Environmental activists argue the warning labels are crucial to public education regarding dangerous chemicals. Others say the law encourages unjustified fear-mongering that stigmatizes safe products and allows for runaway lawsuits against the manufacturers and sellers of such products.

No Evidence of Danger

Noting there is no evidence styrene is a carcinogen, Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang further concluded placing styrene on the Prop 65 list would have a devastating effect on the California economy, and California agriculture in particular.

“The court agrees with plaintiff that the designation of a product as a carcinogen, particularly associated with food, could have a devastating effect on that product’s use,” Chang observed. “Such a designation would likely have the intended ‘stigmatizing’ effect.'”

“Further,” Chang ruled, “once identified as a carcinogen, it would be difficult to undo such a designation in the event that plaintiff were to prevail in this litigation.”

‘Vast ATM for Attorneys’

Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical director for the American Council on Science and Health, hailed the decision as a victory for sound science over opportunism and environmental hysteria.

“I think Proposition 65 is a vast ATM machine for bounty hunter attorneys,” Ross said. “It has since its passage in 1986 produced no measurable benefits to the health of Californians of any age.”

Prop 65 “extracts from the rodent carcinogen theory—which has been widely disproven—that when large doses of chemicals applied to rodents cause health problems [in the animals], this means minute doses in the environment will cause similar problems in humans,” Ross explained.

“Prop 65 institutes a vast thicket of regulatory parameters that businesses and retailers have to jump through hoops to satisfy, and if they don’t, they can be sued by private attorneys collecting fees. It’s completely counterproductive and unscientific,” added Ross.

“This is a great ruling,” agreed John Dale Dunn, M.D., a policy advisor for the American Council on Science and Health and The Heartland Institute. “The EPA and other environmental agencies love to name things toxic on the basis of lousy science, so you end up with the public being frightened of everything when in fact the studies don’t prove anything.”

Tests Derided as Biased

Dunn says the structure of the toxicity studies determines they will find a greater cancer risk in the rats and mice.

“The problem with most toxicity experiments cited by environmental activist groups is that they submit rats and mice to very high doses of chemicals, and those rats and mice are inbred and hybrid species that are prone to developing tumors,” Dunn explained. “Then, after exposing them for periods of time to almost-lethal doses of chemicals, they study them to see if they find any evidence of tumors.

“Lo and behold, those tumors become the basis of saying this is a carcinogen. Yet the chemical in question is not nearly as prevalent in the environment or in humans as the kinds of exposures that are used on these rats and mice,” Dunn added.

“It’s bad science pursuing efforts to panic the public when in fact these chemicals are only toxic in certain instances. Humans are not rats and mice. They’re much bigger and different in terms of their physiology and ability to handle chemicals. This judge was using basically good scientific principles to say to the environmental agencies that this is baloney, and I’m glad she did,” said Dunn.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.