Styrofoam: The secret behind how it can affect your health

Jerica Deck | Campus Editor

On days when the plates are sparse, the school cafeteria often relies on Styrofoam plates and cups as a backup plan. However, while these plates are great at carrying food during emergencies, studies show that Styrofoam not only hurts the environment, but can also take a toll on students’ health over time.

According to Harvard’s study about Styrofoam, over one hundred cities in North America have banned Styrofoam packaging because of this. Despite the dangers associated with Styrofoam, students continue to eat off of these lethal plates without knowing about the dangerous consequences.

Styrofoam, also known scientifically as polystyrene, has been linked to many adverse effects. After chronic exposure, Styrofoam has been linked to fatigue, weakness, headaches, depression, and decreased concentration.

A Harvard study linked people who worked on polystyrene plants with what they describe as “increased levels of chromosomal damage, abnormal pulmonary function, and cancer.” According to the Earth Resource Foundation, styrene, which is found in Styrofoam, is noted as a possible human carcinogen by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Benzine is another toxin found in Styrofoam which is a known carcinogen.

Eating off of these plates alone is a risk. However, according to the Harvard study, these toxins can seep into student’s food or beverage if what they are consuming is warm, oily, acidic, or contains alcohol. This is part of the reason why people are often advised not to microwave food in Styrofoam containers.

Styrofoam also poses a huge threat to the environment. Polystyrene is not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to naturally deteriorate. While there is technology to recycle Styrofoam, it is not as easily available through average recycling agencies.

The process of washing, transporting and recycling Styrofoam often is not cost effective; therefore, it usually ends up in landfills. Over time, polystyrene often ends up breaking off into chunks. These pieces can easily cause an animal to choke or have issues with their digestive systems.

The process of creating Styrofoam itself negatively affects the environment. Manufacturing polystyrene creates by-products that pollute the air and mass amounts of waste.

A 1986, EPA reported that solid waste from polystyrene manufacturing is the fifth largest form of hazardous waste in the United States.

The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire research also reported that 57 by-products are created during the combustion of polystyrene foam.

There are many other materials to use besides Styrofoam that are less toxic to both humans and the environment.

Some people have turned to corn plastics and bamboo as an alternative because those are renewable resources.

However, a cheaper alternative is to use paper plates instead of ones made out of Styrofoam. Unlike Styrofoam, paper can be easily recycled at a local level. In 1995, the EPA reported that 40 percent of the United States’ paper was recycled.

If Hampton University truly cares about the safety of its students, it will make the switch to paper plates.


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