The composites industry, which is comprised of manufacturers and retailers from multiple sectors, has stretched into almost every product made in the United States. It is no longer just tub and shower manufacturers, boat makers or hot tubs any more. Composites now make up a significant part of industries such as wind energy, trenchless technology, aerospace, automotive, biogas plants, emission scrubbers, natural gas exploration, recreation and more.

Composites manufacturing requires many components, but it is truly reliant on resin to function. Resin is a chemical that, when combined with other materials, allows composites manufacturers to produce products such as boats, motorhomes, aerospace and wind turbine parts and more. Composites manufacturing has become one of the largest growing small-business market sectors around the world.

There is one drawback to manufacturing with resin – styrene emissions.

Carcinogen listing

For the last decade or more, composites equipment manufacturers have worked to develop systems and processes that will reduce styrene emissions during production. Over that time, many new innovations have allowed manufacturers to significantly reduce overall styrene emissions in the work place.

However, over the course of the last few years there has been a concerted effort to clarify the findings from the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the Report on Carcinogens (RoC) that suggests styrene should be listed as a “reasonably known carcinogen.”

Despite over 100 other studies conducted by “blue ribbon panels,” the European Union, Harvard Medical School and others that showed styrene was not carcinogenic, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently approved the 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC) that will list styrene as a “reasonably known carcinogen.”

This decision will be catastrophic for the thousands of small business across the country that uses composite materials in their manufacturing process, and to retail business that sell those products.

Effects on business

On February 9, 2009 President Barak Obama gave a speech at a local motorhome manufacturer in Elkhart, Indiana in which he spoke of restoring prosperity to that badly hit business sector.

“We’re talking about folks who’ve lost their livelihoods, and don’t know what will take its place … I promised you, if elected President, I would do everything I could to help this community recover … I intend to keep that promise.”

Unfortunately, with the decision of Secretary Sebelius to ignore hundreds of studies which reach a similar consensus that styrene is not harmful, and accept a single study with a faulty conclusion that it is, that promise is likely to never be kept.

This single action by Secretary Sebelius is likely to set into motion a chain of events that will result in enormous burdens, a halt in clean energy initiatives such as wind energy as new production methods are explored, class action lawsuits, massive job loss in composites manufacturing and retail sales, and the migration of manufacturing to more 'friendly' nations.

Industry opposition

There has been a concentrated effort by the composites industry’s leading representatives and business owners, such as myself, to meet with elected officials on this issue.

Additional information

I personally made multiple trips to Washington D.C. to meet with elected officials from Washington State including Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Patty Murry, Representative Adam Smith and Representative Dave Reichert. For each legislator I had only one request: contact Health and Human Services and ask Secretary Sebelius to reconsider the science, request a National Academy of Science review and let the science represent itself. If they followed through on this request, it fell on deaf ears.

The Department of Health and Human Services failed in its job, the Administration has failed in its job to prevent job-killing decisions such as this, and worst of all my local elected officials have failed.

Job creation is not being 'stimulated' by the government throwing more money at the problem, it is being stifled by government and its failure to understand that small business is the job creation machine of America.

It is truly unfortunate that many people will be forced to suffer because one governmental department failed to do their due diligence, and appears to be following an agenda on this issue. This irresponsible action by HHS will have a devastating effect on American business and jobs. ♦

Tom Hedger


Tom Hedger is President of Magnum Venus Plastech (MVP), a Florida headquartered company supplying processing equipment to the composites industry, and a member of the Board of the American Composites Manufacturers Association.