The Safety of Foam is Wrongly Under Fire

March 23, 2015

Over the past month, there has been false information circulating in the international community surrounding the safety of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Foam. The source of the confusion can be traced to ill-informed and conflicting reports by the Dubai press claiming that the Ministry of Economy was calling for a ban of polystyrene foam food service products. The false claims stated the Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of Economy was seeking to ban foam products based on their carcinogenic properties. Not only are these allegations about foam false, no such ban has actually been issued.

The origin of the false speculation occurred a month ago when Dr. Hashim Al Nuaimi, Director for the Consumer Protection Department, issued his own statement claiming EPS foam products may cause cancer. However, the Consumer Protection department and the Dubai municipality have both since responded to the allegations clarifying that the use of foam cups does not create health risks for consumers. In addition, the Ministry does not possess the ability to instate a ban of this nature.

Polystyrene foam has been used safely for years. Unfortunately, misinformation has led to bans that have a negative economic effect for jobs and small businesses. Much of the confusion surrounding the safety deals with the misunderstanding between styrene and the finished product that is polystyrene foam.

Styrene is a liquid derived from petroleum and natural gas byproducts. It helps create the materials that are the building blocks of cars, boats, and computers, medical, health, and safety equipment. Styrene is a naturally occurring substance found in many of our foods, including wheat, beef, strawberries, and peanuts.

Polystyrene is a solid plastic made from polymerized styrene and often is used in applications where hygiene is important, such as health care and food service products. In the United States, polystyrene foam meets stringent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for use in food contact packaging, and is safe for consumers. Health organizations encourage the use of single-use polystyrene foam food containers because they provide greater food safety.

The U.S. isn’t the only nation that has concluded that foam foodservice products are safe. Health Canada and Environment Canada concluded after a comprehensive test of styrene’s possible health and environmental effects that styrene is non-toxic for regulatory purposes.

In addition to polystyrene foam being non-toxic, there has not been any correlation to foam usage and cancer. In June 2011, Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, responding to public concerns the safety of styrene used to manufacture foam foodservice products, stated that he saw no health risk with foam cups. Dr. Linda Birnbaum of the National Toxicology Program also concluded that there is no cancer risk from styrene in finished products.

It is important for cities and municipalities to look at the facts when determining the health risks of a product. Though a ban was never instituted in Dubai, the false speculation on the safety of products that we use every day caused unwarranted fear in the community.

Source: Khaleej Times