Health Implications of Polystyrene

Date: 12 Jan 2014 | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Polystyrene is made from the styrene monomer, which is a known neurotoxicant and was elevated in 2011from being a possible human carcinogen to being reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.1 This means there is a huge body of evidence now linking styrene to human cancers. No polymerization process is 100% efficient, so styrene remains in polystyrene and has been found in 100% of adipose (fatty tissue) samples, meaning it is widespread and prevalent in all of us. It even crosses the placenta barrier. According to a 2000 World Health Organization report, “The ability of styrene monomer to migrate from polystyrene packaging to food has been reported in a number of publications and probably accounts for the greatest contamination of foods by styrene monomer.”2 You may hear that polystyrene is safe because it’s FDA‐approved and regulated. Sadly, we know that the science and history of the regulatory process proves otherwise (consider how long it took to ban lead in paint and gasoline, or the current battle to ban BPA, despite hundreds of peer-reviewed research studies). Products approved in the marketplace today may well likely be banned tomorrow as policy keeps pace with science. In the absence of any action at the federal level, dozens of cities and counties have passed laws to restrict the use of polystyrene in foodservice ware. Many of these laws point to the human health impacts to workers and consumers. DC’s bill, if passed, would be the first comprehensive law in the Mid-Atlantic, and would become a model for other cities to emulate.


1 See the US Department of Health and Human Services, 12th Report on Carcinogens (2011), which is a congressionally mandated, science-based, public health document that is prepared for the HHS Secretary by the National Toxicology Program. The report identifies agents, substances, mixtures, and exposure circumstances that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans. Available online at:‐E1BF‐FF40‐DBA9EC0928DF8B15

2 See Styrene Chapter, Air Quality Guidelines‐2nd Edition, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2000.