Styrene is a basic raw material for the vast resins and plastics industry and more than 10 million tonnes are produced worldwide each year. Large quantities of styrene are constantly being transported over land and by sea. Many industrial facilities have stockpiles of styrene, contained in tanks or drums. There is a high risk of incidents, and databases on chemical leaks and spills all contain numerous cases involving styrene. These databases, which are regrettably very incomplete and often have very sketchy information on incidents, mainly comprise incidents in a few highly developed countries, such as the US, Canada, Japan and France. Hence for instance an incident for which Cedre was mobilised, involving the chemical tanker N° 1 Chung Mu in South China (1995), is not listed in any of these databases.
According to our knowledge, no incident has ever led to a situation comparable to that of the Ievoli Sun, with a large quantity of styrene monomer trapped in a wreck. This does not mean that such a situation has never occurred. But if it has, those involved did not consider it useful to share this experience with the international community.
You will find below a summary of our own experience and the data available in the documents available to us.
On 15th October 2000, some 50 m3 of styrene leaked from one of the 10 tanks (each with a capacity of 180 m3) of a barge travelling from Belgium after hitting the lock at Fresnes-sur-Escaut near Valenciennes. The response by the fire brigade involved divers plugging the leak while booms were deployed downstream to protect the river against pollution. 14 people from 3 nearby houses were evacuated for a few hours. 4 children, suffering from irritation, were taken to hospital but were quickly discharged (source: "Face au risque” journal, n° 364). Cedre was not mobilised in relation to this incident and does not have information on any impact on aquatic flora and fauna.
On 9th March 1995, the cargo vessel N°1 Chon Stone collided with the N°1 Chung Mu, a 3,500-GT chemical tanker carrying styrene monomer, in the Zhanjiang port access channel (South China).
On 5th February 2000, a styrene spill was reported following a road accident involving a heavy goods vehicle in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Run-off flowed into the rainwater drainage system at the protected site of Mai Po and fish mortality was reported although unquantified.
Some 11 tonnes of styrene have been spilt in Canadian ports during loading and unloading operations by the chemical tankers Stolt Castle (Quebec, on 22nd December 1980), Silver Magpie (Sarnia, on 29th September 1981) and Stolt Sydness (Montreal, on 19th April 1983).
After being struck by another vessel near Shimokita, on 23rd June 1988, the chemical tanker Sakura, carrying 20,000 tonnes of styrene, methanol and ethylene dichloride, released 235 tonnes of styrene through a breach in a 1,335 m³ tank, above the water line. The spill evaporated in a few hours, without polymerisation. There was no impact on the shoreline or on marine resources.
Another incident occurred, on 14th March 1988, near Nojima, involving the chemical tanker Maasgusar, transporting 36,000 tonnes of 10 different chemicals, including 2,000 tonnes of styrene. We have no further details of this incident.
Sources: correspondence with the Japanese Maritime Disaster Prevention Center and the Japanese Ship Research Institute.
The NOAA website provides some details of the spill from the Kathie G in the US on 8th September 1988. The barge was transporting 3,500 tonnes of styrene when it ran aground in the Mississippi, 140 miles north of Baton Rouge (Louisiana), at around midnight and lost an estimated quantity of between 200 and 800 tonnes of the product. Strong odours and breathing difficulties were reported in the surrounding area. The spill rapidly polymerised in the sunny conditions the next day. Booms were deployed up to 30 miles downstream and 4 people intoxicated by the vapours received medical assistance. NOAA provided information to the general public and local doctors, in particular in relation to drinking water.
A similar incident occurred on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW) in Louisiana on 26th January 1992, following a collision between two barges. One of them was transporting over 14,000 tonnes of styrene and lost almost all of its cargo. The section of waterway was closed. Strong odours were detected for over 10 days and a marshy shoreline was heavily contaminated by a partially polymerised product. It was shown during this incident that infrared sensors are able to detect styrene monomer on the water surface, which concurs with observations of the infrared sensor onboard the French POLMAR 2 plane for the detection of the Ievoli Sun spill.
Three other smaller spills are listed in the US:
- a 650-litre styrene spill into the Philadelphia sewer system (Pennsylvania) by an industrial firm on 13th August 1986,
- an incident involving a tank containing styrene, xylene, and ethyl benzene in Chesapeake (Virginia) on 3rd August 1987,
- a train derailment causing a 56 m³ styrene spill into the Ohio River near Louisville (Kentucky) on 19th December 1996.
The documents available to us on these incidents do not specify any population evacuation or shelter-in-place measures, or any studies on the impact on aquatic flora and fauna.