Styrene Designation Disputed By Industry

Potential Impacts, If Any, Weighed By Market
By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | July 2011, Vol. 66 No. 7

"Polystyrene plastic has been used in foodservice products – foam coffee cups, salad bar takeout containers, cutlery – for more than five decades. Polystyrene has been reviewed by regulatory agencies (including the U.S. FDA) that have deemed it safe for use in contact with food.

“In addition to its use in making polystyrene, styrene is naturally present in foods such as strawberries, beef, beer, and cinnamon and is naturally produced in the processing of foods such as wine and cheese.

“To put its recent report in perspective, NTP states: ‘It is important to note that the reports do not present quantitative assessments of carcinogenic risk… Listing in the report does not establish that such substances present a risk to persons in their daily lives. Such formal risk assessments are the purview of the appropriate federal, state, and local health regulatory and research agencies.’

“NTP has not concluded that styrene or plastic foodservice packaging made with styrene present any risk to human health.”

Washington Post: “Styrene, which is used to make those ubiquitous white foam coffee cups, food containers and many other products, is probably a human carcinogen, the federal government declared Friday.

“Officials stressed that the listings do not mean that any exposure to the substances will cause cancer. Instead, it means that the latest scientific evidence indicates that the agents can cause cancer in some people exposed to enough of the compounds under the right circumstances. Most of the evidence for a cancer risk came from people exposed to relatively high levels in industrial settings.

“‘The listings do not trigger any immediate new restrictions on the substances, but other government agencies may use the information in the future as part of their regulatory decisions,’ Bucher [John Bucher, NTP associate director] said. ‘In the meantime, individuals can use the list to make personal choices,’ he said.

ABC News: “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added eight more substances to its ‘known human carcinogen’ or ‘reasonably anticipated to be carcinogen’ lists today, one week after a World Health Organization study concluded that cell phones may cause cancer.
“Among the substances is styrene, a synthetic chemical found in Styrofoam and used in the manufacturing process for products such as pipes, fiberglass, automobile parts and other materials.

"’As a pediatrician, I'm in the business of urging caution and I think this is a case where it's reasonable to urge caution even while the data are incomplete,’ said Dr. Phillip Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine."

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