The Health Risks Behind Styrofoam and Everyday Plastics

Little is known about the health risks involved with handling everyday plastics but the Environmental Protection Agency and many other organizations are helping to raise awareness. Cancer is just one of many possible side effects that are caused by the

Styrofoam is actually a trademark name that is used in replace of polystyrene.  Polystyrene derives from styrene monomer and is actually a light weight petroleum based plastic with 95 percent of its bulk being made up of air.  This is why polystyrene (Styrofoam) is most commonly used as an insulator in households or offices in order to retain and regulate heat.  Polystyrene has been also commonly used as a packing tool as it creates a great cushion for fragile objects and is also found in the majority of everyday plastics and rubbers.  However, even though polystyrene and styrene monomer seem like such a great tool and blessing to mankind overexposure to it can actually cause some permanent long term health risks and concerns. 

Over 90,000 employees who are involved with the creation process of plastics and other various objects that include polystyrene and styrene monomer, such as boats and bathtubs, are over exposed to the negative effects of styrene.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already ruled styrene as a possible carcinogen.  When heated up, styrene monomer and polystyrene becomes an oily colorless substance with an aromatic odor than can cause irritation in the eyes, throat, nose, and lungs.  Workers that are over exposed to styrene have also reported to have acute problems such as headaches, gastrointestinal maladies, central nervous system issues and even depression. 

In 1986 the EPA announced that the chemical styrene monomer and polystyrene actually was the 5th largest pollutant in the world when undergoing the combustion process which turns the chemical into foam.  It was also discovered that the chemical styrene was releasing CFC’s into the atmosphere much similar to that of the CFC eradication attempt during the 1980’s however, the CFC’s were replaced with HCFC-22 which is only slightly less destructive but still very hazardous to the atmosphere.  Fortunately however, other organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),   and the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC) have all taken the chemical styrene into close consideration and currently keep a close eye and consistently study the future effects of it.     

Many countries throughout the world have already banned all products that have polystyrene or styrene monomer within them.  This is because products that contain styrene has NOT biodegradable or recyclable and actually show up in landfills in significant numbers.  It is also unsafe to use styrene products in order to package food.  Meats are commonly found in Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic as well as households will often cook foods in the microwave with plastic containers.  This is not safe to human health as the high temperatures of the microwave can cause the styrene to literally ‘bleed’ into the food making it easier for human consumption.

Many countries as well as even communities within the United States have already started the attempt of ridding the world from plastics and switching to a much safer alternative for everyday tools and needs.  For example other alternatives such as bamboo, corn plastics, post consumer recycled paper, and even cannabis are all safer to use for human consumption and safe to use alongside the environment.         

Sources:

Styrene.” Integrated Risk Information System. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA 

What Are the Dangers of Styrofoam?” By Stanley Goff

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