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A few years ago a cisterna truck full of styrene crushed on the road near a small town nearby, spilling 4 tons of the chemical. It apparently has caused a small ecological catastrophe killing fish in the local river with concentrations of 3.7 ml/l in the water, and half of the population - some 2000 people were evacuated in the next 2 days, but it was not mandatory, and what seems more strange to me, I've seen all the firefighters not wearing any gas masks while pouring some white foam on the truck. Also, no one mentioned that styrene is a cancerogen.

Initially, there was no info on the chemical spilled, and I didn't know or care much then, but today I incidentally found out it was styrene, and I got curious. So, were those measures somehow inadequate, or on the contrary - far-fetched, and just how bad this is?

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  • $\begingroup$ From experience I know firefighters commonly do not take proper precautions and then we are all left to wonder why cancer rates are so high. $\endgroup$ – A.K. Jul 17 '18 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps more to the point, there are any number of chemicals that might generically be called 'styrene' for short. An SDS (Safety Data Sheet) for Styrene (Ethenylbenzene) suggest that it could be pretty bad, particularly through inhalation. It is possibly a carcinogen. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jul 17 '18 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ All in all I think that ground contamination would be the main concern now. So if a house near the road where the spill occurred had a water well then that well could become contaminated. Obviously you wouldn't want to have a garden on the spot where the spill occurred either. Driving by the spot wouldn't be a problem. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Jul 17 '18 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it was ethenylbenzene. $\endgroup$ – Nigel Jul 17 '18 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ Styrene is like mild inconvenience in comparison with lots of really dangerous chemicals. $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Jul 17 '18 at 23:51
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According to this safety data sheet (SDS), styrene monomer has a Category 3 respiratory classification, where 1 would be most serious. Category 3 is defined "substances produce transient (short duration or temporary) target organ effects."

Add to that these hazard, precautions and carcinogenicity statements:

  • H335: May cause respiratory irritation.
  • H372: Causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure if inhaled.
  • P260 Do not breathe dust/fume/gas/mist/vapor/spray.
  • NTP Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen

Read the cited SDS or others for statement on environmental precautions and cleanup. Frankly, they're a bit vague to me, "If the product contaminates rivers and lakes or drains inform respective authorities."

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    $\begingroup$ SDS statements seem intentionally vague much of the time. 'Comply with all applicable federal, state, or local laws' seems quite common... $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jul 17 '18 at 18:43

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