More commonly known as Styrofoam, polystyrene is a petroleum based plastic commonly used for crafts, packing and insulation. Composed of 95% air, Styrofoam is incredibly light. While used for beverage cups and food containers, Styrofoam poses a number of health risks to those exposed to the substance in the form of dust, as well as those exposed to Styrofoam's composite chemicals. Those working with or cutting Styrofoam should be aware of these hazards.
Skin, Eyes and Lung Irritation
Exposure to polystyrene dust as a result of cutting Styrofoam can result in skin, eye and lung irritation. Itchy eyes and skin and difficulty breathing can result from chronic exposure to Styrofoam dust.
Affects on Central Nervous System
Cutting Styrofoam with a hot knife is not recommended, as heating or burning Styrofoam will result in a release of the chemicals combined in Styrofoam, such as aromatic hydrocarbons, styrene and ethyl benzene. Burning Styrofoam can also release hydrogen bromide, chloride and fluoride. Exposure to these chemicals in Styrofoam can affect the central nervous system, resulting in symptoms such as headache, fatigue, depression and weakness.
Chronic exposure to the chemicals used in Styrofoam can also result in cancer, as a number of chemicals released by Styrofoam through heating are known carcinogens, such as hydrocarbons, benzene and styrene.