Managing Styrene in the Workplace
Styrene is an essential component of unsaturated-polyester resins used in some fibre-reinforced polymer composites (FRPs). It both solubilises the resin and aids the cross-linking in the cure phase.
When using unsaturated-polyester resins, workers are potentially exposed to evaporating styrene monomer. The chemical has a strong distinctive smell even at very low exposure levels.
Best practice advice is to control exposure to styrene to a level below the workplace exposure limit (WEL).
The current UK WEL is 100ppm averaged over an 8-hour day. There is a voluntary industry code of practise to work below 50ppm. It should be noted that the WEL in most other EU States is considerably lower.
To find out more about working with styrene and tips on how to reduce your exposure download our short guide Managing Styrene in the Workplace
Consumer Sales of Styrenated Products
The situation regarding consumer sales of styrene remains unclear. The majority of styrene producers have withdrawn their support for the consumer sales of products containing free styrene and most resin producers have modified their MSDS in line with this. However, there is no clear guidance that legislates this and this effectively transfers any future risk to the seller. As soon as Composites UK has definitive information on this subject then we will inform members immediately.
Styrene-alternative products are available but at the moment are more expensive. Vinyl Toluene (VT) is an alternative that performs in a similar way to styrene and is the closest in price (typical VT resins are about 25% more expensive as cost to manufacture is higher) so use of this will likely grow. Vinyl Toluene will be accredited for consumer use.