On October 14, 2020, the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes and Processing Aids (CEP) published an assessment on the safety of styrene (CAS 100-42-5) for use in plastic food contact materials (FCMs). The CEP was requested by the European Commission (EC) to complete the assessment following a 2018 conclusion by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that both styrene and styrene-6,8-oxide (CAS 96-09-3) are “probably carcinogenic to humans” (FPF reported).

The EFSA assessment found that migration of styrene for most packaged foods is below 10 µg/kg but can be as high as 230 µg/kg, especially when in contact with fatty foods or in packaging with high surface to volume ratios. This led to an estimated dietary exposure on the order of 0.1 µg/kg body weight per day. The assessment notes that the IARC’s conclusion was primarily based on inhalation studies on high-dose occupational and animal exposures, and it found that the IARC’s conclusion “cannot be directly applied to the evaluation of risks for consumers from the oral exposure to styrene associated with FCM.”

EFSA concluded that “based on the data provided in the IARC Monograph and by the industry, a concern for genotoxicity associated with oral exposure to styrene cannot be excluded.” It therefore recommended that “a systematic review of genotoxicity and mechanistic data, comparative toxicokinetics and analysis of species differences is required for assessing the safety of styrene for its use in FCM.”

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EFSA (October 14, 2020). “Assessment of the impact of the IARC Monograph Vol. 121 on the safety of the substance styrene (FCM No 193) for its use in plastic food contact materials.”

Chemical Watch (October 22, 2020). “EFSA panel recommends systematic review of styrene FCM safety.