To Ban or Recycle Styrofoam

FullSizeRenderAt a recent Culver City Council meeting there was heated discussion of whether to ban or recycle Styrofoam. This was followed by thoughtful and analytic feedback by way of letters to the editors (LTEs) in the Culver City News. The interesting thing is that there has been no rebuttal to those LTE’s! This is an opportunity for me to weigh in as a physician, environmental activist and a Democrat.

As a physician, I am aware and alarmed that there are approximately 90,000 workers exposed to styrene, particularly, those who manufacture boats, tubs and showers. The health effects include irritation of the skin, eyes, upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. Chronic exposure affects the central nervous system with resultant symptoms that include depression, headache, fatigue and weakness, not to mention effects on kidney and blood function. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Workers who manufacture Styrofoam are at risk for benzene exposure and we are all aware that benzene is a known human carcinogen.

From a chemical perspective, the National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research reported that 57 chemical by-products are released when polystyrene foam is made. After it is manufactured, polystyrene foam takes more than 500 years to decompose. Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 expanded polystyrene foam cups, which is enough to circle the earth 436 times! As it is with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Who among us would entertain the idea of having a polystyrene recycling plant next to our neighborhood, considering the adverse health effects of this chemical? Who among us would subject another human being to the ill effects of this chemical by employing them in an industry recycling polystyrene. It would be unthinkable, unconscionable, and immoral. The only logical answer is to ban polystyrene. I understand that there will be a meeting of the Sustainability Committee of the Culver City Council at 9 AM on September 14th. The residents of Culver City who feel strongly about Styrofoam should make a tour de force effort to be there to voice your concerns.

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