Exposure to styrene and chronic health effects: mortality and incidence of solid cancers in the Danish reinforced plastics industry.
OBJECTIVES--To study the occurrence of non-malignant diseases and solid cancers in workers exposed to styrene in the Danish reinforced plastics industry. METHODS--All 36,610 workers of 386 reinforced plastics companies and 14,293 workers not exposed to styrene from similar industries were followed up from 1970 to 1990. This industry is characterised by simple exposure conditions, exposure to high concentrations of styrene, and a high proportion of small companies, and the exposure assessment was based on experts' classification on a company level. The mortality from non-malignant causes and the incidence of solid cancers were compared with the national rates. Poisson models were used for internal comparisons. RESULTS--A total of 3031 deaths and 1134 newly diagnosed cases of solid cancer were reported in the workers in the reinforced plastics industry. In companies where 50% or more of the workers produced reinforced plastics an increased mortality rate ratio (MRR) for degenerative disorders of the nervous system (multiple sclerosis, parkinsonism, and motor neurone disease; MRR 1.8, 16 cases, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.9-3.8) and an increased incidence rate ratio (IRR) for pancreatic cancer (IRR 2.2, 17 cases, 95% CI 1.1-4.5) was found. For both disease categories increased occurrence was also found among long term workers, workers of the 1960s (the period with the highest exposure to styrene), and workers with a latent period of more than 10 years after the start of employment. No other non-malignant diseases or solid cancers showed these patterns. CONCLUSION--The findings have to be interpreted with caution, due to the company based exposure assessment, but the possible association between exposures in the reinforced plastics industry, mainly styrene, and degenerative disorders of the nervous system and pancreatic cancer, deserves attention.