Quartz countertops have become incredibly popular in recent years for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects. Made from ground quartz crystals combined with resins and pigments, quartz offers an attractive, low maintenance, and durable surface. However, there has been some concern about potential health risks from styrene exposure. Here is an in-depth look at whether there is styrene present in quartz countertops.
What is Styrene?
Styrene is a chemical compound with the formula C8H8. It is an unsaturated derivative of benzene and is classified as an aromatic hydrocarbon. At room temperature, styrene is a colorless liquid with a sweet smell.
Styrene is used to make a variety of plastics and rubber products. Polystyrene and expanded polystyrene (EPS) are some of the most common styrene-based plastics. Styrene is also used as a component in resins for fiberglass, rubber, and latex paints.
Health Concerns About Styrene
The health effects of styrene exposure have been extensively studied. The major health concerns are:
- Irritation – Styrene vapors can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. Direct contact can cause burns.
- Carcinogenic effects – Styrene is considered possibly carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization. Long-term exposure may increase cancer risk.
- Neurological effects – Headaches, fatigue, weakness and depression have been reported with styrene exposure. There are also concerns about effects on hearing and balance.
- Reproductive effects – Some studies suggest styrene may affect the developing fetus. However, the evidence is not yet conclusive.
- Endocrine disruption – Styrene mimics estrogen in the body and may disrupt normal hormone function.
Considering these potential health risks, it makes sense to limit exposure to styrene whenever possible.
What is Used to Make Quartz Countertops?
Quartz countertops are made by combining ground quartz crystals (silica) with resins, polymers, and pigments. The exact ingredients and ratios can vary between manufacturers. Here are the basic components:
- Quartz crystals – Around 90% of the material is ground natural quartz. It provides strength, hardness, and scratch resistance.
- Polymers/resins – Epoxy or polyester resins bind the quartz particles together. Polymer resins make up around 10% of the material.
- Pigments – Added in very small quantities to achieve the desired colors and patterns.
- Other additives – Additional compounds like polymers or acrylics help provide durability.
The resins are essential to provide the adhesive properties that hold quartz countertops together.
Does Quartz Contain Styrene?
The short answer is maybe. Some types of quartz countertops may contain small amounts of styrene in the resin binders. However, styrene-free options are also available.
Here are some key points:
- Epoxy resins – Traditional epoxies often contain styrene as a component. A polymer like bisphenol A diglycidyl ether is combined with styrene to produce the resin.
- Polyester resins – Can be made with or without styrene. Most manufacturers have moved to styrene-free polyester resins.
- Pure quartz – Some high-end makers use clear polyester resin with no added styrene. This produces a countertop that is over 95% pure natural quartz.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – Countertops made with styrene-free resins release much lower VOCs. This improves indoor air quality.
So while styrene may be present in small doses in some quartz countertops, consumers have options to avoid this chemical entirely.
How to Choose a Low-Styrene Quartz Countertop
For homeowners concerned about limiting styrene exposure, it is important to do some research when selecting quartz countertops. Here are some tips:
- Ask manufacturers – Reputable companies should disclose what resins are used in their products. Request styrene-free polyester or epoxy resins.
- Look for green certifications – GREENGUARD, Greenguard Gold, and UL Environment certification indicate low VOCs.
- Read product descriptions – Terms like “pure quartz”, “clear resin”, “acrylic-based”, and “styrene-free” are positive signs.
- Avoid strong chemical smells – Styrene has a very distinct sweet aroma. Countertops with no odor likely contain minimal or no styrene.
- Consider recycled content – Some quartz contains recycled materials like glass, mirrors, and porcelain. This diverts waste and reduces styrene use.
With a bit of diligence, you can find stylish, non-toxic quartz countertops to enhance your home. Prioritize brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and human health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does all quartz contain styrene?
No, not necessarily. While some lower-quality quartz may contain styrene-based resins, most major brands now use styrene-free polyester or epoxy resins. Pure quartz and recycled quartz options contain little or no styrene.
Is styrene only in certain quartz colors?
Styrene content has nothing to do with the color. Countertops made by the same manufacturer using the same resin formula will contain the same miniscule styrene levels, regardless of the color.
Can styrene in quartz countertops cause cancer?
While styrene is considered possibly carcinogenic, the trace amounts in some quartz countertops are unlikely to significantly increase cancer risk. Proper ventilation greatly reduces any potential danger. High-quality styrene-free countertops eliminate this concern entirely.
How dangerous is it to have styrene-based quartz countertops in your home?
With proper ventilation and usage of low-styrene or styrene-free quartz, the risks are negligible for most people. Children and pregnant women may be advised to take extra precautions. However, styrene exposure from countertops is generally far below dangerous levels.
Should I replace my quartz countertops if they contain styrene?
In most cases, replacement is unnecessary. Focus first on adequate kitchen ventilation. If you still have strong chemical odors, talk to your countertop company about sealers that can encapsulate any styrene. Complete replacement is really only needed in rare cases of very poor indoor air quality.
While early quartz countertop products sometimes contained styrene in the resin blends, most manufacturers have now switched to less hazardous alternatives. Consumers can easily find high-quality quartz made with styrene-free epoxy or polyester resins that maximize durability while minimizing health and environmental impacts. With a little research and care when selecting products, you can safely enjoy the benefits of stylish, low maintenance quartz countertops.