Styrene is widely used in the production of various plastics, synthetic rubber and resins. The aim of this study was to evaluate if individual polymorphisms in xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes, related with the metabolic fate of styrene, could modify individual susceptibility to the possible genotoxic effects of the styrene exposure. Twenty-eight reinforced plastic workers and 28 control subjects were studied. In the selected population the urinary styrene metabolites mandelic (MA) and phenylglyoxylic (PGA) acids were quantified, sister chromatid exchanges (SCE) and micronuclei (MN) were assessed in peripheral lymphocytes and all the subjects were genotyped for GSTM1, GSTT1 (gene deletions), GSTP1 (codon 105 ile double right arrow val), EPHX1 (codons 113 tyr double right arrow his and 139 his double right arrow arg) and CYP2E1 (DraI polymorphism in intron 6). The results obtained showed a significant difference between the levels of SCE, but not in MN levels, in exposed workers as compared with the control group. The GSTP1 and CYP2E1 individual genotypes modulate the baseline levels of SCE that are lower in non-wild type individuals for both polymorphisms. The GSTM1 null individuals with low levels of exposure have significantly higher urinary levels of MA + PGA. The present data seem to suggest that apart from the methodology usually used for monitoring populations occupationally exposed to styrene (urinary metabolites and biomarkers of early biological effects) the analysis of individual genotypes associated with the metabolic fate of styrene should also be carried out in order to evaluate the individual genetic susceptibility of exposed populations. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.