Avoid polystyrene foam

The chemical styrene, found in polystyrene foam cups and take-away containers, has been added to the list of possible human carcinogens. That means we don’t know for sure if it contributes to cancer risk, but it’s a suspect and avoiding it when possible is a reasonable precaution.

Studies, particularly on workers manufacturing styrene-containing products and thus exposed to higher than normal levels of the chemical, suggest that it damages white blood cells and may raise the risk of cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

To avoid foam containers:

  • Choose ceramic and glass for food and beverage containers.
  • For small children, tin cups and plates are also an option.
  • For parties and large catering events, paper cups and plates are a better choice than foam.
  • Containers made from harder plastics are acceptable, but as a general cautionary health rule, avoid using them for hot foods and drinks.

Styrene is also found in insulation, fiberglass, plastic pipes, automobile parts, carpet backing – and cigarette smoke. Exposure to styrene from smoking is an estimated 10 times that from all other sources.

Polystyrene of various kinds also does not biodegrade well and is not often recycled; it is a serious form of solid waste in the environment.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, July 2011, Health24

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