Updated 07 November 2014

Green tips and shoots 2

Wind instruments harbour germs, so clean them well and don't share - and avoid the business end of a vuvuzela!


Our monthly EnviroHealth roundup of fresh tips and trends, plucked from the latest research.

Don't share wind instruments, and clean them well after use.
Germs linger for up to several days on instruments such as clarinet, flute and saxophone. Living bacteria, mould or yeast were found on every instrument. When E. coli, Staphylococcus and a deactivated strain of tuberculosis were applied to a clarinet, the bacteria survived a few days to nearly two weeks. Wooden reeds and mouthpieces harboured the greatest quantities of bacteria.

Another note on the topic of musical instruments: each blast from a vuvuzela creates a "spittle shower" distributing 4 million droplets a second, a similar rate to a sneeze. In crowded venues such as soccer stadiums, one person blowing on a vuvuzela could infect many others with airborne illnesses like flu or TB. So don’t use these instruments if you’re sick, and stay away from their business ends (which aren’t good for your ears either). 

Avoid smokey environments
We already knew smoke of all kinds wasn't good for us, but now isocyanic acid has been detected in smoke from cigarettes, wildfires and indoor cooking fires. Isocyanic acid dissolves easily in water, which means it also enters our systems easily via the moist membranes of our eyes and respiratory pathways. Health effects of isocyanic acid aren't fully known, but it is part of a chemical pathway associated with cataracts and inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Avoid using polystyrene foam containers.
The chemical styrene, found in polystyrene foam cups and take-away containers, has been added to the list of possible human carcinogens. That means we don’t know for sure if it contributes to cancer risk, but it’s a suspect and avoiding it when possible is a reasonable precaution.

Studies, particularly on workers manufacturing styrene-containing products and thus exposed to higher than normal levels of the chemical, suggest that it damages white blood cells and may raise the risk of cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

To avoid foam containers:

  • Choose ceramic and glass for food and beverage containers.
  • For small children, tin cups and plates are also an option.
  • For parties and large catering events, paper cups and plates are a better choice than foam.
  • Containers made from harder plastics are acceptable, but as a general cautionary health rule, avoid using them for hot foods and drinks.

Styrene is also found in insulation, fiberglass, plastic pipes, automobile parts, carpet backing – and cigarette smoke. Exposure to styrene from smoking is an estimated 10 times that from all other sources.

Polystyrene of various kinds also does not biodegrade well and is not often recycled; it is a serious form of solid waste in the environment.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, June 2011, Health24


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