News BlogConsumption

Use of styrene in sewer works. Mistrust

2013-08-30 screenshot at 06.36.38The recent use of a chemical — styrene — in a sewer lining process by the company Vivaqua (on behalf of Hydrobru, the Brussels water authority) led me to become interested in this product.

Side effects observed in local residents

An “incident” actually took place during use over a period of several days in a Brussels municipality (Etterbeek). Several residents have had side effects on their health: headaches, irritation of the throat or eyes, drowsiness. In fact, the process used outside (in the street) infiltrates the house via the sewers. The smell at first, surprising but not unpleasant, becomes debilitating over time (several days) and causes these side effects. Readings carried out in homes 3 hours after work stopped showed a rate of 5 to 20 ppm in certain homes (*).

Reaction of the industrialist and the municipality: Ostrich syndrome

The Hydrobru/Vivaqua company denies any harmful effects. “an unpleasant odor (emanating from the polyester used to line the sewer) may appear during this work”, adding “it is in no way harmful”. While the municipality disclaims all responsibility: “these odors do not result from any chemical pollution. They are exclusively linked to the nature of the materials used to repair the sewer, are not dangerous and will disappear as the work progresses. (read here). For the mayor's chief of staff, Vincent De Wolf (liberal), like the permanent elected official, everything is normal and without any danger. The elected environmentalist Rik Jellema even considers that it is “for the good” of the inhabitants! Nb: none however risked going to the site despite the presence of the police, firefighters and the IBGE). In terms of crisis management, the town of Etterbeek like Vivaqua still seems to be in prehistory.

An incomplete table

The picture drawn up by the authorities is, in fact, largely incomplete, even bordering on lies by omission. Styrene is, in fact, a product classified as “harmful” according to CE regulations according to 4 risk factors: “R 10 – Flammable. R 20 – Harmful by inhalation. R 36/38 – Irritating to eyes and skin. S 23 – Do not breathe gas/fumes, vapors, aerosols”. And the employer who uses it is subject to European and national regulations in force, particularly in terms of health protection, worker information and medical monitoring.

Side effects

The effects observed among those living near the works are perfectly described in the various “toxicological” sheets established by the scientific institutes (see the INRS sheet – Safety Research Institute (French) or the international toxicology sheet below ). Its long-term effects, however, have not yet been scientifically proven and discussed - notably the carcinogenic effect (European regulations do not classify it but the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an international organization close to the WHO, classifies it as “possible carcinogen to humans”).

Lowered exposure threshold

The legislation in force for this product is, however, in the process of being strengthened. This is under the effect of several scientific reports which establish certain health risks. Thus the exposure limit is set at 50 ppm in France over 8 hours at a temperature of 20° (or 215 mg/m3) according to a 1985 circular but a report from theNational Health Security Agency recommends setting it around 100 mg/m3 or around 25 ppm. In Belgium, the royal decree of 2002 (last amended in 2011) took the lead and planned to gradually lower this limit: from 50 ppm in 2012, it is now 40 ppm in 2013 and 2014 and will increase to 25 ppm in 2015. In Germany and the USA, the first limit is already set at 20 ppm (86 mg/m3). NB: This lowering of limits therefore reflects an awareness at the scientific level which does not yet seem to have reached the level of certain political leaders.

To behave In case of problem

In the short term, it is recommended:

  1. (if possible) get out of the contaminated area
  2. Ventilate as much as possible
  3. Styrene being a rather heavy gas which will remain at ground level, for semi-buried rooms, it is preferable to use an air extractor (industrial, construction site type, otherwise a bathroom air extractor). powerful baths).
  4. Consult a doctor to establish a report
  5. Take a urine sample, in any laboratory, With a request for measurement of: Mandelic acid and phenylglyoxylic acid
    These samples will be grouped together for a complete examination in a specialized center (in Brussels, AZ).

In the medium and long term, it seems necessary to put in place a more important preventive policy:

  1. Installation of control sensors, permanently in nearby premises or homes
  2. Provision of an emergency number available 24/24 (possibly with a medical form). Nb: that of Vivaqua is a “lure”. It does not work 24/24. While the site operates 24/24.
  3. Visit of an expert to premises or homes to seal or install precautionary devices

In the event of a problem being observed, it seems necessary

  1. Provision in “sensitive” homes of means of evacuation or treatment of contaminated air
  2. urinalysis study among residents

NB: all these measures “have a cost” as noted by Mayor De Wolf’s office. "You realize !" It can be noted that this cost is relatively modest compared to that of the inconvenience caused.

(*) As the product is extremely volatile, this rate must have been much higher during daily exposure.

Learn more. You can download:

  1. the sheet INRS (France)
  2. the international toxicological data sheet (WHO/ILO/EC),
  3. the study Ineris (France)
  4. the report of theAnses (France)
  5. Royal decree of 2002 – updated in 2011 (applicable in Belgium)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).