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Styrene emissions associated with the General Motors Central Foundry-Powertrain plant in Massena, NY have impacted the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation for several years. Many residents have complained of skin irritation and burning eyes associated with the occurrence of the styrene odor. Since 1959, GM and three other major plants have been degrading our air shed with their operations.
GM has been utilizing a process called the "lost-foam" casting process. The process, pioneered at the plant in 1982, was the sole production line left after foundry business moved out of the factory between 1986 and 1988. And it is the production method through which GM Powertrain has revitalized its Massena operations.
The process of making an aluminum or iron piece begins with pebble-sized beads of polystyrene foam. Light as popcorn, the white beads are packed into molds of sprockets or engine parts.
Once formed, these foam molds are dipped by robotic arms into vats filled with a brownish syrupy coating solution, then dried in an oven and placed in a metal bucket on conveyor belts. A machine pours sand into each bucket, which is packed around the foam mold. Then 1,400- degree molten aluminum or iron pours down into the foam.
The foam disintegrates, leaving packed sand to shape the liquid metal into an engine part as it cools and hardens. After some detailing work, such as smoothing edges, the part is ready to ship. The decomposition process releases styrene monomer in addition to other by-products of incomplete combustion.
The GM facility has attempted to mitigate the situation by installing and modifying emissions control systems, including using a catalytic reactor. The objective of GM was to reduce their emissions so that ambient levels of styrene would fall below levels detectable by odor (0.05 ppb) at their fence line.
Previous measurements made by the SRMT Clean Air program reported episodes of styrene occurrence that have indicated that GM's objective was not reached. The measurements found ambient levels to range from 0.3 ppb to 13.3 ppb at locations several hundred yards from the fence line.
Styrene is listed as a hazardous substance by the US Environmental Protection Agency. In its pure state it is a colorless to yellowish, very refractive, oily liquid with a penetrating odor. The liquid and vapor are irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and skin. The liquids are low-grade cutaneous irritants, and repeated contact may produce dry, scaly and fissured dermatitis. Acute exposure to high concentrations may produce irritation of the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, nose and mouth, followed by respiratory center paralysis. Effects of short-term exposure to styrene under laboratory conditions include prolonged reaction time and decreased manual dexterity. Points of attack are on the central nervous system, respiratory system, lungs, eyes and skin.
Beginning May 1998, the Environment Division will be conducting styrene monitoring. Samples are drawn directly from outside air into an instrument called a gas chromatograph (GC). The GC compares the gas components in the sample to a reference gas stored in the instrument. From this comparison, staff can determine whether styrene is present and in what concentrations.
General Motors - Styrene emissions associated with the General Motors Central Foundry-Powertrain plant in Massena, NY have impacted the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation for several years. Shutdown in 2009 and demolished in 2011. For more information go to the GM remediation update: