Thursday, February 2, 2017

Why It's Not So Safe To Eat From Foam Plates

Styrofoam, is just a trademark name for the product polystyrene foam which has become a daily aspect of our lives. Plates, bowl, cups, spoons, forks, containers, and packaging are made from this product; and are used as everyday eating utensils. Families break out the foam and plastic for special occasions, or that day when no one feels like washing dishes or cooking. The busy on the go lifestyle consists of hot cups of coffee and tea; lunch packaged in foam trays with plastic forks or spoons which are also made from polystyrene.

Foam and plastic is just simply convenient for most, but convenience doesn't necessarily equate to safe. So, exactly how safe are eating utensils and packaging made from polystyrene for use in food consumption. Let's start from the production and manufacturing of polystyrene.

What Is Styrene?

The greatest ecological concern with polystyrene is the threat connected with styrene; a naturally occurring organic chemical compound essential to the manufacturing of the synthetic compound polystyrene. Styrene occurs naturally in small trace amounts in nature and can be found in tree saps, strawberries, coffee beans and other organic sources, but the styrene used to make polystyrene foam, synthetic rubber and plastic is produced in a factory using a number of different chemical reactions. 

Employees who work closely with these chemicals are at constant potential risk of being exposed. According to the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) required by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to be available to all employees working around potentially hazardous materials in the workplace, styrene is classified as a proven carcinogen. The substance is toxic to the nervous system, blood system, and upper respiratory tract causing acute bronchitis or emphysema. It can cause gastrointestinal issues, depression, migraines, lethargy, and affect kidney function. Loss of hearing and smell. It passes the placental barrier causing defects in prenatal and postnatal pregnancies, contaminates breast milk, and causes menstrual disorders. Studies have found it in men's semen causing defects in sperm. It's also a mutagenic with a category of 2, which means there's positive evidence that it may alter your DNA causing genetic mutations and hormonal imbalances that become hereditary.

The FDA Says It's Safe
Now that we have a clear understanding of how extremely hazardous the handling of the chemical [styrene] is in the manufacturing of the chemical [polystyrene] foam and plastics, it's important to note that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approves polystyrene foam and plastics for use in food consumption. How can a synthetic chemical that causes so much of a health hazard being produced be approved for use in food consumption? Do a quick Google search and you'll find quite a bit of national regulators, researchers, and evaluators, saying the samething, "blah blah blah, the levels of styrene from polystyrene containers are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than they are in the warehouses where they are made...the average consumer exposure is far below the safety requirement... polystyrene is safe....blah blah blah”.

When it comes to health there is no level of exposure... they can keep their slick numbers...either it's safe or it isn't. They must think us American citizens are pretty dumb. So, polystyrene is safe, but it's made from styrene which isn't...yeah right. What do they have, some type of sensors in every citizen's household that can determine how much styrene everyone is exposed to?

Synthetic Styrene

Let's check out a MSDS for polystyrene. Looking under toxicological information on a few MSDS sheets of polystyrene products you won't find anything outside of skin, eye and respiratory irritation. The acute and chronic effects are usually unavailable, unknown or not classified. One MSDS I found for polystyrene foam though notes that no analysis has been done on the product individually, so any risk assessments must be calculated using the individual chemicals used in the creation of the product itself. This brings us right back to styrene and gives us a slew of other hazardous chemicals to evaluate. Pentane which has a few variations and hexabromocyclododecane both have similar wrap sheets to styrene. There's also the chemicals benzene, aldehyde, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons like toluene for example, which has been recognized to cause neurological disorders and brain damage in infants exposed during pregnancy. Most important to point out though, which all MSDS sheets can agree to is that polystyrene has a melting point at which heat applied to the product causes thermal decomposition and that it is reactive when it is exposed to amines, aldehydes, and oxidative chemical agents; which are basically acids. Now, what does of  all this mean? Let me explain.

What Is Thermal Decomposition?

Every chemical compound has a temperature for thermal decomposition. This is the temperature at which a chemical begins to decompose and the bonds which hold it together begin to separate. This usually gives you the original chemicals used to create a particular substance and possibly new chemical compounds. During decomposition lighter chemicals become their gas forms creating fumes and heavier chemicals become solids or liquids. Acids can cause a similar effect, when exposed to certain chemicals. Multiple chemical reactions can occur during decomposition.

We're Not Dumb At All!

Now let's apply some common sense. I'm pretty sure everyone that has read this far has experienced placing some hot food on foam plates and trays. I've done it plenty of times but frozen pizza and barbecued chicken stick out in my memory banks. Foam plates almost always have scalding, imprints, and melting scars where the hot food was. Almost all of my older tupperware containers and plastic bowls have uncleanable tomato sauce stains from reheating spaghetti in the microwave, because tomato sauce is acidic and high in amines and the heated oils form aldehydes eating into the plastic. This is decomposition. If you have witnessed this congratulations, because you have successfully conducted a scientific experiment; thermally decomposing polystyrene in your kitchen releasing all of those harmful chemicals into the atmosphere of your home and absorbing them into your food.Your kitchen has become the warehouse equivalent of where polystyrene is made and styrene and every other chemical used in its creation is present in your home, the only difference is your family doesn't have MSDS sheets laying around with instructions for proper handling.


The Effects Of Hormonal Imbalances

Polystyrenes: A Review of the Literature on the
Products of Thermal Decomposition and Toxicity

Aldehydes contained in edible oils of a very different nature after prolonged heating at frying temperature: Presence of toxic oxygenated α,β unsaturated aldehydes

Estrogenic and anti-androgenic endocrine disrupting chemicals and their impact on the male reproductive system

Assessment of sperm DNA integrity in workers exposed to styrene

Developmental Neurotoxicity of Industrial Chemicals On Fetus

Mortality among styrene-exposed workers in the reinforced plastic boatbuilding industry

Styrene-induced Hearing Loss

Styrene MSDS:

Polystyrene MSDS:

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