The Safety of Styrene in Selected Foods and in Polystyrene Foam Cups
Most people are exposed to styrene every day in tiny amounts that may be present in the air, primarily from automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke, or that occur naturally in food such as cinnamon, beef, coffee beans, peanuts, wheat, and strawberries. These generally are trace amounts, which were difficult to detect until recent technological advances improved scientists’ ability to measure minute amounts of chemicals. 1
Figure 1 shows the average annual styrene intake (at the high end of the range) based on sources of exposure.
Figure 2 shows levels of naturally occurring styrene in selected foods as compared with styrene that migrates from a polystyrene foam cup.2 In the final analysis, all credible research indicates that it is safe for consumers to consume cinnamon, beef, coffee beans, peanuts, wheat, and strawberries and to use polystyrene foam foodservice containers.3
Numerous studies have found that styrene is not harmful in the amounts we sometimes encounter in air or food.4 In 1994, after an exhaustive assessment of styrene’s possible health and environmental effects, the Canadian government ministries Health Canada and Environment Canada concluded that styrene is “non-toxic” for regulatory purposes. Health Canada found that styrene “does not constitute a danger to human life and health” and “does not constitute a danger to the environment on which human life depends.”5 In 2002, a twelve-member panel of international experts selected by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis reported that styrene is naturally present in foods, and the styrene levels in these foods does not represent a threat to human health.6
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