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
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
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
There is also evidence exposure may raise the risk of esophageal
and pancreatic cancer among styrene-exposed workers, according to
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
chemicals, formaldehyde (widely used as a preservative) and a
botanical known as aristolochic acids, adding both to the list of
"The strength of this report lies in the rigorous scientific review process," said Ruth Lunn, director of the National Toxicology Program Office of the Report on Carcinogens, in a news release.
Aristolochic acids have been shown to cause high rates of
bladder or upper urinary tract cancer in people with kidney or
renal disease who consumed botanical products containing
aristolochic acids, according to the report. Despite a U.S. Food
and Drug Administration warning against the use of products
containing aristolochic acids, it can still be purchased on the
Internet and abroad, particularly in herbal products used to treat
arthritis, gout and inflammation.
Formaldehyde has long been listed as a substance "reasonable
anticipated" to cause cancer after animal studies showed it
increased the risk of nasal cancer. Since then, additional studies
in humans have shown exposure increases the risk for certain types
of rare cancers, including nasopharyngeal (the nasopharnyx is the
upper part of the throat behind the nose), sinonasal and myeloid
leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, prompting federal
officials to strengthen its warning.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical
that is widely used to make resins for household items, such as
composite wood products, paper product coatings, plastics,
synthetic fibers, and textile finishes. Formaldehyde is also used
as a preservative in medical laboratories, mortuaries, and in some
hair straightening products.
Representatives of industry took issue with the addition of both
formadelhyde and styrene to the NTP's list.
"It will unfairly scare workers, plant neighbors and could have a chilling effect on the development of new products," Tom Dobbins, a spokesman for the American Composites Manufacturers Association, told The New York Times. "Our companies are primarily small businesses, and this could hurt jobs and local economies."
The federal panelists were quick to stress that the public
shouldn't panic over the inclusion of any one substance in the
Report on Carcinogens.
"A listing in the report does not by itself mean that a substance will cause cancer," John Bucher, associate director of the NTP, told Bloomberg News in a conference call with reporters. Many
factors, including the amount and duration of exposure, as well as
an individual's susceptibility can affect whether a person will
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease
Registry has more on styrene.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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