Paul Poe of Dart Container Corp., center, and Steven Rosario of the American Chemical Council appeared before the Green Commission as it debates limiting styrofoam products.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local advocates for a ban on polystyrene containers argued facts and studies with opponents representing the industry last weeek as the city's Green Commission continues to review a citizen petition for an ordinance limiting use of the material.
Proponents of such an ordinance say polystyrene products pose demonstrable health risks and environmental problems, a claim disputed by representatives from leading manufacturer Dart Container Co. and the American Chemical Council, one of the leading Washington lobbies for chemical-related industries.
"Polystyrene products have been around for 50 years, and there's not one really scientifically proven case that polystyrene has caused any issue," said Paul Poe, Dart's regional manager for government affairs.
"The problem isn't always the product," maintained Steven Rosario, Northeast regional director for the ACC, who said the problem is mismanagement of refuse, not the material that is an issue. "Sometimes we forget it's our responsibility for dealing with our waste in a way that doesn't harm the environment."
Rosario said polystyrene is actually a more ecologically friendly product than some alternatives, stating it takes less energy and its production causes fewer greenhouse gases, and unlike paper food containers, has potential to be recycled.
Members of the public who spoke at last Monday's meeting fiercely disagreed with their contentions.
Kathy Lloyd said the information put forth by industry advocates, such as that available on the website FoamFacts.com was "compelling," but upon further research found it to be distorted from the original reports and studies that are cited.
"The styrofoam lobby are liars, they are manipulators of the truth," said Lloyd.
Lloyd cited a 2011 report by the state Department of Health and Human Services that classed styrene, a byproduct of polystyrene some say can leech into food from foam containers, as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
Lloyd said that while it may break down harmlessly when incinerated at temperatures around 1,800 degrees, it releases toxins into the air when burned at the much lower temperature of 540 degrees used at Covanta, Pittsfield's waste disposal site. However, a representative Covanta contacted iBerkshires after this article was published to say that temperature is incorrect and that combustion temperatures are actually in excess of 1,800 F.
The commission also heard from Charles Lake, a former trucker who said he developed numerous health problems while transporting polystyrene products. Lake has since become an activist against the product, and maintains a website on the subject.
"I've been doing research for years and years, and the more I learn, the worse it gets," Lake told the commission, providing them with copies of data he said connects the product to numerous health problems, from diabetes to autism.
Poe took issue with what he called "several misstatements" by those speaking in favor of a ban, citing a report from a subdivision of the ACC extolling the safety of styrene-based containers, and quoted an associate director of the National Toxicology Program as saying "The risks, in my estimation, from polystyrene are not very great."
Poe also emphasized the growing capacity to recycle polystyrene.
"You often hear about how foam is banned in so many municipalities in California, and that's in the 30s, maybe 40s, but there are actually 65 cities in California that recycle foam," Poe told the commission. "Nobody ever talks about how there's more recycling programs for foam than there are bans on foam."
At least 80 municipalities in California have ordinances banning polystyrene use in some form, according to a list compiled by Californians Against Waste.
Pittsfield attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo, who first proposed an ordinance limiting the foam containers last spring, countered that recycling options for polystyrene are limited, and economically prohibitive.
"It isn't recycled much," said Del Gallo, stating the material is "less expensive to produce than to recycle."
"It's really bad stuff," concluded Del Gallo. "When it incinerates it's a bloody mess, when it's left in the outdoors it's a bloody mess, when it gets in the water it's a bloody mess."
The Green Commission will continue to gather information on the petition for a possible ordinance on an ongoing basis, and will resume hearing testimony at its next meeting.
Updated on Thursday, May 29, with clarification from Covanta confirming its incineration temperatures are 1,800 F, not the lower number referred to by Kathy Lloyd.
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