The Components of Styrofoam

Benzene

Benzene is extracted from coal, but is also found in gasoline (2% present in U.S. gas and 5% present in gas from developing countries).

Working in the coal mines has always been known of as a very hazardous job.The extraction of coal is very hard on the natural environment.  The earth distributed around the mine from deep inside is virtually dead in that it cannot support plant life.  This leads to erosion of the land even long after the mine has been closed for use.

• Benzene is a clear, colorless liquid with a noted pleasant odor.
• Benzene is present naturally in certain foods (I could not find out what foods it’s present in).
• Another common name for Benzene is Coal Tar.
• Nearly 75% of all extracted Benzene is used in Polystyrene production.  It is used to transform Styrene into Polystyrene (brittle plastic).
• Other common exposures to Benzene are from cigarette smoke (it is one of the 4,000 chemicals present) and from the exhaust pipes of automobiles.
Styrene
• Styrene Monomer is a clear, oily liquid with a slight odor.
• Styrene for manufacturing is “cracked” or extracted from petroleum.
• I could not find the exact way Polystyrene is made, but it is basically a combination of Styrene and Benzene
• Styrene is naturally present in most foods, such as: strawberries, beef, coffee, peanuts, beans, wheat and cinnamon.  The article that stated this also noted that the technology needed to detect Styrene present in natural food products is only two decades old.  So, this could mean that Styrene has gotten into our natural environment through the refining of petroleum, but we haven’t been able to test for it until recently.
Ethylene
• Ethylene is a colorless gas that becomes a liquid at very low temperatures.
• Ethylene is present in almost every plant and encourages plant growth.
• Generally used as a refrigerant, it is one of the main building blocks of the petrochemical industry.
• Ethylene has been used as one of the two new blowing agents in the production of Styrofoam.
Blowing Agents
• Polystyrene is basically a hard, brittle plastic (just like disposable plastic cups) and it doesn’t become Styrofoam until it gets injected with a “blowing agent” to make it 30 times lighter than its original weight.
• The name, Polystyrene, doesn’t change once it becomes Styrofoam, because the chemical composition doesn’t change.
• To make Styrofoam, certain gases are injected into the plastic, blowing tiny holes that become gas and air filled pockets once the plastic cools.  The background of this PowerPoint are the cells of Styrofoam.
CFCs
• Up until the late 1970’s CFCs, or Chlorofluorocarbons, were used as the blowing agents for Styrofoam production.
• The main CFC blowing agent was Isobutylene.  This was phased out due to growing knowledge of the relationship between CFCs and global warming and replaced with HCFCs combined with Ethylene.  Now before we move on to the controversy behind HCFCs, lets take a look at how the chemical companies and the EPA see the history of Styrofoam production differently.

 

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