What is Styrene?

Styrene is an oily, colourless liquid with the chemical formula, C8H8. It has a sweet, aromatic odour in low concentrations and a sharp penetrating smell at higher concentrations. Styrene evaporates very easily and is soluble in alcohol and hydrocarbons. Styrene occurs naturally in small quantities in some plants and foods, such as coffee beans and peanuts. 

What is Styrene used for?

Styrene is a chemical building block for polystyrenes, other styrene copolymers and rubbers/latexes that go on to manufacture other products we are more familiar with including, polystyrene packaging, rubber tires, surfboards, carpet and building insulation . 

The largest global use of styrenes goes into polystyrene production, creating polystyrene solids, foams and films. 

Consumers encounter polystyrene products often, from food containers to protective packaging.
Consumers encounter polystyrene products often, from food containers to protective packaging. 

Styrene Hazards

The routes of exposure for styrene include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of styrene vapours through normal handling may be harmful, bringing on symptoms such as respiratory irritation and inflammation. The effects of styrene are similar to those of general anaesthetics, also causing lightheadedness, nervousness, apprehension, euphoria, confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, tinnitus, blurred or double vision, vomiting, twitching, tremors, convulsions, unconsciousness and respiratory depression and arrest. Extreme exposure can lead to unconsciousness and even death. 

Ingestion of styrene may be harmful with animal experiments suggesting the chemical can have lethal effects.

Styrene produces moderate skin irritation and inflammation when skin contact occurs. Dermatitis is also a possibility with symptoms including; redness and swelling which may progress to blistering. Other harmful effects may result upon entry into the bloodstream through open cuts or wounds.

When concentrated, vapours cause eye irritation and inflammation with pain. Injury to the cornea can occur and permanent vision impairment may result unless treated quickly and adequately. Repeated or prolonged exposure may cause inflammation, redness and temporary vision impairment and/or other transient eye damage. 

Styrene is suspected of being potentially carcinogenic for humans.

Styrene Safety

If styrene is inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Lay the patient down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR (preferably with a bag-valve mask device). Seek immediate medical attention. 

If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. If vomiting does occur, lean the patient forward or place them on their left side to maintain open airways and prevent aspiration. Give them water to rinse their mouth out and provide as much as they can comfortably drink. The patient should avoid drinking milk, oils and alcohol. Seek medical attention. 

If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and cleanse the skin and hair with plenty of soap and water. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation. 

If styrene is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention without delay, if pain persists.

Styrene Safety Handling

Ready access to emergency eyewash fountains and deluge showers should be available in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and adequate ventilation should be available to provide continuous air movement in the area (a local exhaust should be installed if necessary).

The PPE recommended when handling styrene includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, PVC gloves, PVC protective suits, protective clothing, PVC aprons, half-face filter type respirators and safety gumboots.

If you have styrene in your possession and you aren’t sure how to safely handle it, Chemwatch can help. Chemwatch provides chemicals management solutions, including SDS to ensure safety and compliance in your workplace. Contact us at for more information about how we can help. 

Chemwatch has the largest collection of SDS in the world. For a FREE copy of the Chemwatch-authored SDS for Styrene, click the button below.