by Tom Ellis
Albany County legislator Doug “Bullhorn” Bullock has proposed legislation that would ban the use of take-out polystyrene (Styrofoam) food and beverage containers from chain restaurants and eateries in the county. The proposed bill, called the Food Service Waste Reduction Act, has numerous co-sponsors and may be voted on Tuesday, November 12.
A poorly attended public hearing in late August was dominated by out-of-state plastics and chemical industries representatives. However, more than ten county residents spoke in favor of the ban at the September 9 monthly meeting and three of those spoke again on October 15. So far, no resident of the county has spoken to the legislature against the proposed legislation.
The industry is lobbying against the bill saying polystyrene food and beverage containers pose either no or minuscule risks. Several committees of the legislature are reviewing the bill.
Business Barbados (businessbarbados.com) describes what happens when we add hot food or drinks to Polystyrene. “Polystyrene contains the toxic substances Styrene and Benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to humans. Hot foods and liquids actually start partial breakdown of the styrofoam, causing some toxins to be absorbed into our bloodstream and tissue. Polystyrene food containers leach the toxin Styrene when they come into contact with warm food or drink, alcohol, oils and acidic foods causing human contamination and pose a health risk to people. Avoid drinking tea with lemon, coffee with dairy cream, fruit juices, alcoholic beverages and wine from Styrofoam cups. Red wine will instantly dissolve the Styrene monomer. Do not eat oily foods from Styrofoam containers.”
In 1986, the US EPA identified styrene residues in 100 percent of all samples of human fat tissue taken in 1982. The World health Organization’s International Agency for
Research on Cancer has identified styrene as a possible human carcinogen.
Long term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause (1) low platelet counts and hemoglobin counts; (2) chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities; and (3) neurotoxin effects due to accumulation of styrene in the tissues of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves, resulting in fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, and other acute or chronic health problems associated with the nervous system.
Styrene has been identified as an occupational hazard to workers exposed to it, causing respiratory problems and “styrene sickness” with headaches, fatigue, and feelings of drunkenness.
Styrofoam is lightweight, floats, and is durable even if broken into pieces. Thus it washes into sewers, and, during heavy storms, when storm water bypasses sewage treatment, it flows directly into rivers, and downhill to the oceans where it will float on the surface for decades or centuries as it breaks into smaller, invisible Styrofoam particles, eventually to be eaten by unsuspecting fish, birds, mammals, gradually poisoning wildlife.
As for Styrofoam being recyclable, it is, but is rarely recycled because recyclers base their profit margins on recycling products by their weight. They do not want to recycle lightweight bulky stuff.
We live on a planet that is being rapidly and seriously degraded. We have an immense amount of work to do to keep the Earth healthy enough to sustain a high quality of life. Enacting this legislation is a tiny step in that direction.
If you agree please contact your legislator and let her or him know you support the Styrofoam ban. Consider speaking at the Nov. 12 meeting of the county legislature held on the second floor of the Albany County Courthouse at 16 Eagle Street. Sign up to speak beginning at 6:30 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. meeting.
Published in November/December 2013 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter