Um… just how dangerous is drinking Styrofoam?

Lately, I’ve been bringing a Styrofoam cup of coffee in to the office with me most mornings, and I’ve noticed a disturbing phenomenon — tiny coffee-colored beads of "sweat" pop out on the sides of the cup during our morning meetings.

This is indicative of a lack of structural integrity, it would seem to me — coffee actually leaching through the cup, like tritium through soil.

The question this suggests is, What is leaching from the cup into the coffee?Providence_001

Today was the most dramatic manifestation of this phenomenon I’ve yet observed. During a meeting with
folks from Providence Hospital, the tiny beads turned into huge drops that started running down and filling up the ashtray I was using as a coaster. (Sorry about the poor, Loch Ness-monster-quality focus in the picture. I was trying to shoot it without my action being noticed, because I didn’t want Sister Judith Ann thinking "this wacko’s taking pictures of his coffee," and hauling me back to Providence’s psych ward — if it has a psych ward. Diagnosis, Dr. House? Styrofoam poisoning.)

Finally, I had to excuse myself to go fetch my "Office Space" mug.

So, what can Styrofoam, ingested this way, do to you? Does it affect the brain? If so, that would explain so much about this blog, wouldn’t it? All of my detractors — and quite a few of my friends — would go away satisfied that at last, they had found the one factor that accounted for a vast range of previously inexplicable behavior.

11 thoughts on “Um… just how dangerous is drinking Styrofoam?

  1. bud

    Brad, your cup was probably manufactured in China. Contact Mattel and they can use it as a child’s toy – the Magical Bleeding Cup.

  2. Wally Altman

    According to this site I found on Google (whose accuracy I can’t vouch for), polystyrene is ingested in small quantities when drinking from a cup made of polystyrene foam. As for the toxicity:

    The fact that styrene can adversely affect humans in a number of ways raises serious public health and safety questions regarding its build-up in human tissue and the root cause of this build- up. According to a Foundation for Achievements in Science and Education fact sheet, long term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause neurotoxic (fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping), hematological (low platelet and hemoglobin values), cytogenetic (chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities), and carcinogenic effects.[1,2] In 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, reclassified styrene from a Groups 3 (not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity) to a Group 2B substance (possibly carcinogenic to humans).

    So, there you have it.

  3. Karen McLeod

    Perhaps you have a low grade of styrofoam cup (you might want to check to see if they’re from China; if so you may be ingesting lead). Or see if you have someone in you office with a compulsion to put pin holes in styrofoam coffee cups (maybe it’s you, but you block the memory).

  4. SJ Reidhead

    Your story sounds familiar in a way. For years my sister and I made fun of our mother who swore up and down that hot drinks in styrofoam cups blistered her mouth. Then the same thing happened to my sister. One afternoon I was drinking a cup of Greek coffee as I drove through city traffic. “I hate to mention this, but my mouth is starting to blister. Can you put the coffee in something else.”
    My mother’s tombstone will contain the following, “I told you so!”
    Evidently some people have allergic reactions to the chemicals of the styrofoam when hot liquids start doing interesting things to it. It can cause allergic reactions in people.
    Yep, “I told you so.”
    SJ Reidhead
    The Pink Flamingo

  5. SPAMgate

    Here’s something new to worry about-
    Popcorn Lung Patient Inhaled Fumes Daily
    CENTENNIAL,Colo.(AP)—Wayne Watson loved microwave popcorn so much he would eat at least two bags each night, breathing in the steam from the just-opened package,until doctors told him it may have made him sick.
    Watson,whose case of “popcorn lung” is the sole reported case of the disease in a non-factory worker,said he is convinced his heavy consumption of popcorn caused his health problems.
    In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday,the 53-year-old furniture salesman had a message to convey:”America:Read the labels,and just be careful about what we put into our bodies and always practice moderation,”Watson said.”Don’t go crazy.”
    Popcorn flavoring contains the chemical diacetyl, which has been linked to lung damage in factory workers testing hundreds of bags of microwave popcorn per day and inhaling its fumes. The chemical is a naturally occurring compound that gives butter its flavor and is also found in cheese and even wine,according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

  6. bud

    I know what everyone is going to say about this but the point needs to be made every time the opportunity presents itself. Brad has a styrofoam cup that is leaching coffee. There is some evidence, mostly anecdotal, that the chemicals in the styrofoam are dangerous. Wouldn’t it be a good use of government resources to evaluate this situation and determine whether it really is a risk? Sadly, those in charge of our government have chosen to instead devote valuable taxpayer resources to overseas misadventures that make us LESS safe. Yes, I know this is a stretch. But the point is so important it needs to be hammered home hard. When we waste money in one area the opportunity cost is lost services somewhere else. That is the real tragedy of GOP rule. And our standard of living suffers because of it.

  7. Herb Brasher

    They wouldn’t let us have sytrofoam cups in Germany. Or at least they are almost impossible to find, since use of plastic is a big deal there.
    Whenever I got one, I would keep it on my desk and reuse it until my secretary decided it was enough and threw it out. Which I bemoaned, because they were hard to get!
    Well, I guess I didn’t get poisoned. I did burn my fingers a few times on those really thin cups that most gas stations used.

  8. Pal

    I don’t carry water for the GOP but stupidity [SPAMgate] when seen should be pointed out so that others don’t step in it. “When we waste money in one area the opportunity cost is lost services somewhere else.” That is exactly how I have felt about the Great Society program of the last forty years which robbed most of us to provide food stamps and financial incentives for having children with no parents which shattered the minority communities.
    But what has that got to do with styrofoam, DUH?

  9. Ameatabh Bachan

    Sadly, studies done on the harmful effects of drinking from styrofoam cups are INCONCLUSIVE. We have no idea if it is harmful or not.
    I like to use them because it’s one less thing to wash, but even if I ate the cup itself it is completely unknown if it is harmful or not. It’s polymerized styrene. Styrene itsef is found in fruits etc, the question is once polymerized is it harmful?
    Again, sadly, we have NO idea. If you’re scared, don’t use it.

  10. Rachel Powell

    I found this debate whilst wandering around the internet as I have a bizarre reaction to polysterene cups. It sounds awful every time I drink tea of coffee (a hot or warm drink) from one of these cups, exactly 15 minutes later I get indigestion and which manifests as polysterene tasing “wind”. People think I’m crazy but I really believe there must be something in the cups that gets into my drinks that I am allergic/sensitive to.
    At least I now know I’m not alone and am just grateful that it isn’t as bad as blistered lips.
    People are right… how can we use a product that we have no idea if it is dangerous or not??? It’s a bit crazy really…

  11. tracy

    I am looking for ANYBODY! that develops mouth ulcers after drinking or eating anything that was contained in styrofoam which is techniquely called polystyrene. People at work think I’m crazy but, my Dr. said the ulcer that was on my tounsle for 11 days was HUGE! He says he and his family do not eat anything from plastic or Styrofoam.


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