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Polystyrenes: A Review of the Literature on the Products of Thermal Decomposition and Toxicity.



J L. Gurman, L Baier, B C. Levin


he current English literature through 1984 on the products of pyrolysis and combustion from polystyrenes and the toxicity of those products is reviewed. Among 57 compounds detected by chemical analyses of the thermal decomposition products produced under various atmospheric conditions (vacuum, inert, and oxidative), the main volatile component is the styrene monomer. Evidence is provided that the mass fraction of styrene increases with furnace temperatures at least through 500 Deg. C. At 800 Deg. C and above, the concentration of styrene decreases. In oxidative atmospheres, carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (C0(2)) and oxidative hydrocrbons are formed. The concentrations of CO and CO(2) are a function of temperature and combustion conditions, i.e., greater amounts are produced in the flaming than in the non-flaming mode. Eleven different test procedures were used to evaluate the toxicity of the pyrolysis and combustion atmospheres of polystyrenes. The more toxic environments produced under flaming conditions appear to be mainly attributable to CO and CO(2). Incapacitating effects observed during exposures to non-flaming effluents are not due to CO and CO(2) but rather to some other toxicant, probably the styrene monomer. When compared to other common materials used in buildings and residences, polystyrenes, in general are among the least toxic.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) -


combustion products, fire data, literature reviews, polystyrene, pyrolysis products, test methods, toxicity, thermal decomposition


Gurman, J. , Baier, L. and Levin, B. (1986), Polystyrenes: A Review of the Literature on the Products of Thermal Decomposition and Toxicity., NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed May 28, 2024)


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Created March 1, 1986, Updated February 19, 2017