When Jon Huntsman Jr. first announced that he's running for the GOP nomination for president, political columnists dusted off their "Can a Mormon be elected president" files. But now I wonder ... is Huntsman's history as a -- gulp! -- chemical company executive a bigger stumbling block than his religious background? I ask because of a column by Jeremy P. Jacobs from Greenwire, posted on The New York Times' website today. The column, headlined "Styrofoam Made Huntsman Rich, but Candidate's Role in the Family Business Remains Unclear," throws quite a few darts at Huntsman because of his connection to the family chemical business. Here's a snippet that plastics industry readers may find objectionable:
Many of Huntsman's earliest products have gone on to become some of public health advocates' top targets. The majority of their concerns focus on two aspects: the toxicity of polystyrene and the lasting environmental impact of Styrofoam. Polystyrene is made using styrene, a component of many plastics and rubbers. Since it was popularized -- in part by Huntsman Corp. -- in the 1970s and 1980s, it has fallen out of favor as food packaging because of potential health effects. "Styrene as well as various chemical additives in polystyrene leach into food, which increases significantly for hot liquids," said Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. "This is a problem, because polystyrene is very commonly used as disposal packaging for hot food and beverages. While further research is needed, many chemical additives leaching from plastic packaging have been associated with hormonal disruption in people." The National Toxicology Program said last month that exposure to high levels of styrene is "reasonably anticipated" to cause cancer (E&ENews PM, June 10). And Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York who is known for his work on public health issues, said there is a direct connection between styrene and Styrofoam. "My biggest concern about Styrofoam lies in its threat to the environment," Landrigan said. "It clogs up landfills and is virtually immortal. Moreover, its constituents such as styrene can leach into groundwater and thus have potential to end up in drinking water."So, there's concern about the toxicity of PS? Potential health effects? Are we talking about styrene or polystyrene? They almost appear to be interchangeable here. What are the chemical additives that Naidenko seems to be saying leach from PS packaging? Does PS really clog up landfills any more than any other product? I feel like I'm being transported back to the early 1990s, when attacks like this convinced McDonald's to abandon the PS burger clamshell. If Huntsman is going to have to fight -- and win -- that battle in order to be elected president, then I wouldn't bet on him eventually occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We know how the last big debate over PS turn out.