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What are the health hazards of inhaling the smell of printer ink?

Friday, 31 December 2004
Answered by: Dr. Irwin Ziment
Professor of Medicine,
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA),
USA
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Q. The press workers are exposed to the irritating smell of printing ink and additives throughout the duty hours. This is a common complaint by all the newspaper workers. Some workers have developed asthma or other irritating respiratory problems. Some say that it generates nausea and some fear that it is carcinogenic too. The press owners are not bothered. How harmful could this be? Can installation of ozone deodorisation systems, solve this problem, since ozone is the most environment friendly gas if used in measured quantities?

A.  There are several considerations to focus on when discussing the health effects of various inhaled agents, whether they are printer's ink, paint thinners, ozone, or animal hair. The level and frequency of exposure may reach a threshold at which point danger may be expected. However, it is usually difficult to stipulate precise levels, and to be safe all such exposures should be minimised by basic measures such as adequate ventilation. It is sometimes necessary to convince employers to make the appropriate environmental changes, and undoubtedly authorities are required to insist on enforcement of regulations, yet this may not occur in practice. There is no doubt that many work exposure experiences can cause immediate and also long term health hazards. However, individual workers vary in susceptibility and in this respect the situation is comparable to cigarette smoking. It should be noted that we cannot predict which smokers are most likely to develop disease and which will remain healthy. It is even less certain as to what can be expected from most industrial agents since most have not been adequately studied. Even in cases where environmental studies have been reported, the exact risk remains unclear. Thus ozone, for example can be a factor in the causation of emphysema, but correlation with industrial exposures has not been established. Cancers can be caused by some agents, such as benzene and asbestos, but for most industries and work places the overall risk to workers is impossible to assess. Moreover, to put matters in perspective, it should be recognized that certain foods and even excessive amounts of carotene (vitamin A) could cause cancers. On the other hand, some foods such as green tea and turmeric may protect to some degree against lung and other cancers. Unfortunately, many work exposures can pose hazards, whether they are injuries in construction work or asthma in small animal (cat, etc) handlers. The best advice is to minimize exposure at work or if this is not possible one should try and obtain another less risky job.

A.  There are several considerations to focus on when discussing the health effects of various inhaled agents, whether they are printer's ink, paint thinners, ozone, or animal hair. The level and frequency of exposure may reach a threshold at which point danger may be expected. However, it is usually difficult to stipulate precise levels, and to be safe all such exposures should be minimised by basic measures such as adequate ventilation. It is sometimes necessary to convince employers to make the appropriate environmental changes, and undoubtedly authorities are required to insist on enforcement of regulations, yet this may not occur in practice. There is no doubt that many work exposure experiences can cause immediate and also long term health hazards. However, individual workers vary in susceptibility and in this respect the situation is comparable to cigarette smoking. It should be noted that we cannot predict which smokers are most likely to develop disease and which will remain healthy. It is even less certain as to what can be expected from most industrial agents since most have not been adequately studied. Even in cases where environmental studies have been reported, the exact risk remains unclear. Thus ozone, for example can be a factor in the causation of emphysema, but correlation with industrial exposures has not been established. Cancers can be caused by some agents, such as benzene and asbestos, but for most industries and work places the overall risk to workers is impossible to assess. Moreover, to put matters in perspective, it should be recognized that certain foods and even excessive amounts of carotene (vitamin A) could cause cancers. On the other hand, some foods such as green tea and turmeric may protect to some degree against lung and other cancers. Unfortunately, many work exposures can pose hazards, whether they are injuries in construction work or asthma in small animal (cat, etc) handlers. The best advice is to minimize exposure at work or if this is not possible one should try and obtain another less risky job.

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