Viewpoint: The Assault on America's Plastic Composites Industry

Viewpoint: The Assault on America's Plastic Composites Industry

Jobs and revenue are at great risk for leaving the U.S. if people become afraid of styrene as a result of the National Toxicology Program classifying styrene as 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen' in June, says Congressman Manzullo.

How many times have we heard the statement, "We must do everything we can to keep manufacturing in America?" Yet, inch by inch, government regulators undercut America's ability to compete.

A good example of the latest assault is the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which this past June classified styrene as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

Styrene (vinyl benzene) is an organic compound used in manufacturing thousands of remarkably strong, flexible, and light-weight products that represent a vital part of our health, safety, and well-being. The most recognized material is polystyrene; other materials include expanded polystyrene foam several other important types of plastics, and glass fiber-reinforced composites -- better known as "fiberglass."

These materials are used in the automotive and boating industries, as well as plastics, insulation, highway and bridge construction, food containers, carpet backing, tires, and rubber. Products made of fiberglass composites include residential tubs and showers, pipes wind turbine blades, pollution control equipment, and ballistic shields that -- every day -- protect our brave men and women in the Middle East.

In Illinois alone, the composites industry contributes 13,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic activity. These jobs and revenue are at great risk for leaving the U.S. if people become afraid of styrene as a result of the incorrect NTP listing. Canada and the European Union conducted studies on styrene and have found no scientific evidence leading them to regulate it as a carcinogen. Manufacturers based in the U.S. could move jobs and facilities elsewhere if styrene is improperly feared as a carcinogen.

Rep. Donald Manzullo
The problem with listing styrene as a carcinogen is that the process is flawed -- based on serious scientific shortcuts. The National Toxicology Program staff in its assessment provided to its peer reviewers only a few unrepresentative styrene studies suggesting a possible cancer connection, ignoring numerous other studies to the contrary, including those used by the European Union, which recently conducted a thorough review of large styrene health effects databases and decided that there is no link to human cancer.

Using NTP's faulty approach, warnings are now being sent to workers and the public to make people fearful of styrene, which threatens the viability of over 3,000 small companies that use styrene-based resin to make composite products. NTP has placed these small company owners in the position have having to convince their employees and plant neighbors that they are safe despite the NTP listing. This is a severe strain on the ability of the composites industry to continue making important products and employing some 250,000 Americans. This is all caused by sloppy research by the federal government.

In early 2010, the industry finally decided that its years of effort to help NTP conduct a thorough review of the data were not working, and came to Congress with its concerns. Over 100 Congressional offices contacted NTP and the Department of Health and Human Services, encouraging a delay in the styrene listing decision until the science could be double checked. Unfortunately, NTP went ahead with the listing.

A handful of Members of Congress are now asking for a more scholarly review by the independent and well-respected National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which recently published a "roadmap" on how chemical cancer assessments should be conducted to achieve scientifically accuracy. It is unfortunate that NTP cannot be counted on to perform quality science and that NAS is needed to ensure that we protect the health of workers and the public, as well as protect our economy and many thousands of jobs.

Congressman Manzullo is a co-founder and co-chair of the House of Representatives Manufacturing Caucus, co-chair of the House Auto Caucus and has spoken before numerous manufacturing associations and businesses. He received the Wings of Liberty Award from the Aerospace Industries Association for his work in changing exports controls, resulting in billions of dollars of increased sales.

See Also
Capitol View: 8 Questions with Don Manzullo

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