Polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, poses a great danger to landfills. The material can take hundreds of years to decompose, increasing the clutter in already-full landfills. As bad as this is, it is far worse to burn the material. When burned, Styrofoam releases more than 90 different hazardous chemicals and the effects are vast and harmful to the health of any person present for the burning.
When styrofoam is burned, carbon monoxide is released into the air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carbon monoxide is an undetectable gas that can kill you before you're even aware of it's presence. At it's best, exposure to carbon monoxide can cause fainting, dizziness and nausea. Carbon monoxide is one of the most dangerous chemicals to be released as a result of burning polystyrene.
Styrene is an oily liquid and is used in the production of polystyrene. When Styrofoam is burned, vapors from styrene are released into the air. Styrene is also present in cigarette smoke, but in much smaller doses. The vapor that is released from styrene can affect the senses, particularly the eyes, and can also negatively affect the central nervous system. The EPA is currently researching a possible correlation between styrene and cancer.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of compounds that can appear in many different materials, including Styrofoam. There are myriad effects that result from exposure to PAH particles, including blistering, irritation, reproductive problems and even cancer. An individual's reaction to PAHs depend on heredity and various tolerance levels. Some PAHs can be detected through testing and some may not.
Carbon black is, essentially, pure carbon produced by the burning of hydrocarbon. The exposure to carbon black is not as dangerous as exposure to some of the other chemicals released during burning, but long-term exposure poses some risk. The primary health concern from the inhalation of carbon black involves the respiratory system. There can be a cough and slight changes in lung activity, but there is no known correlation between carbon black and cancer or any other body systems.