Olga Naidenko, PhD, senior scientist, Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC. The EWG is a nonprofit, research-based organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. www.EWG.org.
My niece is a college student, and forget about the healthy snacks that my sister once plied her with — frozen blueberries, raw carrots and peppers, Greek yogurt. Now she and her roommates subsist on salty soups in Styrofoam containers that they heat in the communal microwave. This, too, will pass, I know, but a recent US Department of Health and Human Services report provides greater cause for concern. In June, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of HHS, added styrene — the chemical used in the manufacture of Styrofoam cups and food containers — to its list of substances “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer. Styrene has also been linked to nerve damage and hormonal disruption.
Styrofoam is made from the plastic polystyrene, which is based on building blocks called styrene monomers. When you drink your steaming cup of coffee or spoon your chicken noodle soup or chili out of a Styrofoam cup, you also take in small doses of chemicals that leach from it. “Trace amounts of styrene as well as various chemical additives in polystyrene migrate into food, which increases significantly in hot liquids,” explains Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org). “This is a problem, because polystyrene is very commonly used as disposable packaging for hot food and beverages” — and has been for many years!
The HHS says that the levels released from food containers are very low — but for me, that’s not very comforting when I think about the literally thousands of doses that we each have taken in over the years. Then, too, every day we are bombarded with a multitude of toxins in the environment. It all adds up… so now, are you willing to accept toxic industrial chemicals in your soup?
Reducing exposure to cancer-causing agents is something we all want, but it takes knowledge and action on each person’s part to achieve that.