04 February 2005

Is ink bad for your health?

Can exposure to printer ink be the next occupational health hazard? Health24's Environmental Health expert investigates.

Can exposure to printer ink be the next occupational health hazard? Health24's Environmental Health expert investigates. "Long-term exposure to the solvents used in printer ink has been linked to various health problems – but this depends on the type of chemicals being used, and how much and how long you are exposed to them," says Olivia Rose-Innes.

To find out exactly what your printer ink contains, you can ask the supplier for a material safety data sheet. This should list the ingredients and the necessary precautions that must be taken when they are used. Remember that solvents are also often used in products used to clean printers.

There is evidence that solvent exposure can have negative effects on fertility and the unborn foetus, as well as on several other organ systems, including the nervous system, skin, liver, blood and kidneys. In some cases, symptoms like nausea, headaches and skin rashes have been traced to repeated long-term exposure.

It is often very difficult to link negative effects to low-level solvent exposure, however. Most well-documented cases are in people who were exposed to very high levels, e.g. workers involved in ink manufacture.

Take precautions
"It’s a good idea to reduce any potential exposure by making sure that the printing area has proper ventilation (an open window, fan, extractor fan or at least a through-draft). When possible, e.g. at lunch time, try to get out of the work place and get some fresh air (yes, even inner-city air is better!), advises Rose-Innes.

If inks or cleaning products are kept on the premises, they should be properly stored in closed containers. Avoid touching these products, and make sure that you wash your hands before eating or drinking, or touching your mouth or face. You could also suggest that your employer look into changing to less toxic printing chemicals, such as water-based inks.


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