Mortality among styrene-exposed workers in the reinforced plastic boatbuilding industry

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Abstract

Background

We updated mortality through 2011 for 5203 boat-building workers potentially exposed to styrene, and analysed mortality among 1678 employed a year or more between 1959 and 1978. The a priori hypotheses: excess leukaemia and lymphoma would be found.

Methods

Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) and 95% CIs and standardised rate ratios (SRRs) used Washington State rates and a person-years analysis programme, LTAS.NET. The SRR analysis compared outcomes among tertiles of estimated cumulative potential styrene exposure.

Results

Overall, 598 deaths (SMR=0.96, CI 0.89 to 1.04) included excess lung (SMR=1.23, CI 0.95 to 1.56) and ovarian cancer (SMR 3.08, CI 1.00 to 7.19), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (SMR=1.15, CI 0.81 to 1.58). Among 580 workers with potential high-styrene exposure, COPD mortality increased 2-fold (SMR=2.02, CI 1.08 to 3.46).

Conclusions

COPD was more pronounced among those with potential high-styrene exposure. However, no outcome was related to estimated cumulative styrene exposure, and there was no change when latency was taken into account. We found no excess leukaemia or lymphoma mortality. As in most occupational cohort studies, lack of information on lifestyle factors or other employment was a substantial limitation although we excluded from the analyses those (n=3525) who worked <1 year. Unanticipated excess ovarian cancer mortality could be a chance finding. Comparing subcohorts with potential high-styrene and low-styrene exposure, COPD mortality SRR was elevated while lung cancer SRR was not, suggesting that smoking was not the only cause for excess COPD mortality.

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