PITTSFIELD -- The Board of Health has vowed to join the City Council's discussion of a potential ban on polystyrene food containers in Pittsfield.

During the board's monthly meeting Wednesday night, the five-member panel agreed to assist the council as it delves into whether the health and environmental impacts of polystyrene -- commonly called Styrofoam-- warrants a citywide ban.

The board's brief dialogue on the issue came two days after the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee heard the pros and cons of a citizen petition calling for eliminating polystyrene use at restaurants, coffee shops and other eateries that allow take-out orders.

"We'll be part of the process of Ordinance and Rules," said Board of Health Chairwoman Robert "Bobbi" Orsi. "We should be a health resource as much as we can."

While no official proposal is before the council, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo says a potential ban will still be thoroughly debated at the subcommittee level.

"We want to hear more from people who can talk about the environmental effects of Styrofoam and also what can and can't be recycled," said Mazzeo, who also is the chairwoman of the Ordinance and Rules Committee. "We are definitely not going to rush this issue."

If the city does formally propose a ban on polystyrene food containers, the board wants city officials to model it, in part, after the Great Barrington bylaw enacted in 1990 -- the only one of its kind in Berkshire County.

"Great Barrington has had one for [23] years, so let's try and be consistent and maybe use the parts that deal with enforcement," said board member Jay Green.

The town's health agent, Mark Pruhenski, told The Eagle he rarely comes across non-compliance with the ban during route health inspections of restaurants.

Last fall, Brookline and Amherst town meetings also approved similar bans and one is pending in Somerville, where the Dunkin' Donuts chain is among those heavily opposing the ban. The Canton-based business also operates four of its fast food restaurants in Pittsfield.

In addition, the Dart Container Corp., billed as the world's largest distributor of foam cups and containers, has spoken up against a ban in Somerville and Pittsfield. Martin W. Fisher, representing the Michigan-based company, argued before Ordinance and Rules on Monday night that federal regulators haven't declared polystyrene unsafe for use.

The lead petitioner for the Pittsfield ban, Rinaldo Del Gallo, cited evidence the plastic is a "known carcinogen" when burned or buried as it releases potentially hazardous chemicals.

Del Gallo's claim is backed by the National Toxicology Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2011, NTP classified styrene as a potential cancer-causing product, especially if heated in a microwave or burned in a wood stove or campfire.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.