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Chemical Found in Foam Cups a Possible Carcinogen
Date:6/12/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- The chemical styrene, ubiquitous in foam coffee cups and take-out containers, has been added to the list of chemicals considered possible human carcinogens, according to a new U.S. government report.

On Friday, experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added styrene, along with five other chemicals -- captafol, cobalt-tungsten carbide (in powder or hard metal form), certain inhalable glass wool fibers, o-nitrotoluene and riddelliine -- to its list of 240 substances that are "reasonably anticipated" to be carcinogenic.

But before you toss those white plastic take-out containers, keep this in mind: the government report says that by far the greatest exposure to styrene comes from cigarette smoke. In fact, one study cited in the report estimates that exposure from smoking cigarettes was roughly 10 times that from all other sources, including indoor and outdoor air, drinking water, soil and food combined.

Styrene is a widely used chemical. Products that contain it include insulation, fiberglass, plastic pipes, automobile parts, drinking cups and other food containers and carpet backing, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.

Studies in the lab, animals and humans -- particularly workers in industries such as reinforced plastic that expose them to higher than normal levels of the chemical -- suggest that exposure to styrene causes damage in white blood cells, or lymphocytes and may raise the risk of lymphohematopoietic cancer, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

There is also evidence exposure may raise the risk of esophageal and pancreatic cancer among styrene-exposed workers, according to the Report on Carcinogens, prepared by the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The report also issued its strongest warning about two other chemical
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