Scand J Work Environ Health 1978;4 suppl 2:22-27    pdf


Thermal degradation products of homopolymer polystyrene in air.

by Pfäffli P, Zitting A, Vainio H

Polystyrene without additional compounds was treated in a laboratory oven at elevated temperatures (200 degrees, 350 degrees, 500 degrees C) under slight air flow (0.7 l/min). The thermal degradation products appearing in different phases (gases, vapors, aerosols) were collected and analyzed by methods of chromatography. Thermogravimetric analysis showed the thermal degradation of the polymer to begin at 270 degrees C in air and stop at 425 degrees C. The main groups of vaporized compounds generated were monoalkyl-substituted aromatic hydrocarbons and their oxidized products, of which styrene monomer and benzaldehyde were the most abundant. Only trace amounts of carbon monoxide and aliphatic compounds (hydrocarbons, aldehydes, and acids) were produced. The aerosol produced, the amount of which increased as the temperature rose, contained mainly fragments of the polymer chain (e.g., dimers and trimers of styrene). The traces of styrene, cumene, and ethylbenzene that appeared at 200 degrees could represent residual compounds in the initial polymer and indicate the beginning of the thermal degradation. If proportional concentrations are kept as a criterion, the important products, from the point of view of industrial hygiene, were styrene, benzaldehyde, styrene oxide, acetophenone, and l-phenylethanol. The large amount of aerosol that appeared may also be of practical importance.