The Soapbox: Polystyrene food ware can cause serious health risks

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Michelle Deal Winfield

After reading that New York City has decided to ban polystyrene, I decided to lend my voice to the discussion. I will focus on the impact of polystyrene on human health.

Years ago, my husband was provided a polystyrene cup with hot tea and lemon. As the lemon wedge rested on the side of the cup, a hole visibly appeared. That was the first time my family and I became aware of the possible hazards of polystyrene products. That was in 1984.

Migration of Styrene occurs when foods containing acids, fat and/or alcohol, leech into the foods, more quickly when foods or drinks are hot.

Hospitals use polystyrene products. Inpatients in hospitals do not have a choice. Some of the patients are our most vulnerable populations in our community. When food is served on polystyrene products, the hazardous chemicals may cause the following health problems:

Fatigue
Nervousness
Lack of concentration
Difficulty sleeping
Mucous membrane and eye irritation
Depression
Hearing loss

These symptoms are often attributed to seniors.

Styrene is a volatile organic compound (VOC). The damage is cumulative.

In June 11, 2011, the U.S. federal government placed polystyrene on their “Cancer Risk list.” Similarly, in the 1990s hospitals stopped using latex gloves because irritations to people were discovered. Hospital boards moved ahead of the curve to protect their patients.

Therefore, I am calling on all hospitals, nursing facilities and senior centers to stand tall and immediately initiate policies to rid their closets and storerooms of polystyrene food service ware. Furthermore, I urge New York City not to grant hospitals, nursing facilities and senior centers exemptions from the policy to ban polystyrene products. I too, welcome the ban on foam.

Michelle Deal Winfield, is a community activist and resident of East Midtown Plaza.

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