Signatures can be lethal. When John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence
he knew that he was sticking his neck out. Did you know that your signature can be lethal too? While most of us may pay attention to the document text we are signing off on, how many of us pay attention to the type of paper our pen is pushing on?
Today, many of the papers we come in contact with are chemically-coated. These special purpose papers are not only polluting , they can be hazardous to our health. Is anything being done about this?
Chemically-coated paper technology has been in the consumer marketplace since 1954 when NCR (National Cash Register Company) launched Carbonless Copy Paper or CCP. An alternative to those separate sheets of clumsy carbon paper, the worldwide market for CCP grew rapidly. By the mid 1980s there were more than 50 manufacturing facilities around the world. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOHS), in 1991, about 1.8 million tons of CCP (the equivalent of nearly 200 billion sheets of standard letter-sized paper) were manufactured and used worldwide. By the 1990Õs there were over 45 carbonless copy paper brands manufactured in the US, Europe, and Asia.
While the technical manufacturing aspects of CCP are complex, it is important to know that there is no basic recipe for producing carbonless copy papers. Of the thousands of different types of CCP products available; each may have its own distinct formulation and production method. Today, one CCP product familiar to most of us is the yellow proof of payment paper we often receive after having signed a point of sale credit card receipt. Just imagine the millions of these papers which are handled and disseminated daily- this is big paper business!
While this convenient, easy to use paper soon became ubiquitous, ill health effects due to CCP exposure began to emerge as early as the 1960s. Symptoms ranging from contact dermatitis to severe asthma finally prompted OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) in 1975 to have physicians provide information on Òunusual frequency of eye, mucous membranes, or skin irritation associated with CCPÓ. Additionally, in 1987, NIOSH (the US government research arm dedicated to worker safety) issued a notice in the Federal Register [Fed. Reg. 22534 (1987)] soliciting information about the potential ill health effects from CCP exposure. Although at the time no conclusive evidence linked CCP to ill health, bad health associated with CCP exposure continued to be reported and NIOSH issued a second Federal Register notice in 1997 [62Fed.Reg. 8023 (1997)]. Today, in 2009, The US Department of LaborÕs enforcement arm for worker safety, OSHA, features carbonless paper as a common safety and health topic on its website: www.OSHA.gov. Listed as a potential health hazard, OSHA states that carbonless copy paper may be hazardous because: ÒTiny micro granules of dyes and resins are released when sheets are pressed together. The released chemicals can be absorbed through the skin or released into the air and inhaled resulting in mild to moderate symptoms of skin irritation and irritation of mucosal membranes of the eyes an upper respiratory tract.Ó ThatÕs enough for me. If this were not a problem, I believe it would not be so predominately displayed on OSHAÕs website.
As with any industry, production formulations and methods change over time. From the advent of CCP production until the 1970s, the main dye solvents used in carbonless paper products were polychlorinated biphenyls (commonly known as PCBs). For fifty years, PCBs were readily released into the environment by many industries. Because PCBs were shown to cause cancer and other health problems, the US finally banned their manufacture in 1979. Once in the environment, PCBs do not readily break down and can be found in air, water and soil; they can accumulate in foods crops and fish and enter the human food chain.
As with other types of paper, carbonless copy paper finds its way into paper recycling operations. Until the ban of PCBs, recycling of PCB containing carbonless paper products released tons of PCBs into waste streams. One famous case is the Lower Fox River (Wisconsin) where PCB contaminated sediment from paper recycling operations at the Appleton Paper company released about 250,000 pounds of PCBs contaminating 11 million tons of sediment. This current EPA superfund site is the largest source of PCB contamination found in Lake Michigan. So, what has replaced PCBs in carbonless paper manufacturing? Compounds called DIPNs (short for diisopropylnaphthalenes). It should be noted that DIPNs are used mostly in the production of carbonless and thermal papers.
A study published in 1994 by Sturaro, et al., ÒFood contamination by diisopropylnaphthalenes from cardboard packagesÓ, confirmed food packaging made from recycled paper not only contained DIPNs, but DIPNs were detected in the rice and pasta packaged in the recycled paper cartons studied! In other words, while these paper-based containers only contained about 10% recycled paper content with a 3% allowance for carbonless paper, the DIPNs originating from the carbonless paper ended up in the recycled packaging itself and then migrated from the packaging into the food. In short, recycling carbonless paper led to DIPN food contamination. While governments around the world strive to list the ingredients of the packaged food items purveyed by grocers, food contamination (which can happen during production or storage) remains unaccounted for and can cause serious health problems. Investigations into the toxicity of DIPNs are not conclusive. However, when rats are given high dosages of these chemicals, body weight loss, digestive disorder, enlargement of the liver and locally disturbed circulation have occurred. (Hasegawa et al., 1982).
In 1999, a Food Surveillance Information Sheet, published by MAFF, Department of Health and the Scottish Executive Board showed that DIPNs were detected in recycled food packaging from fast food containers, cereal boxes, and rice cartons. Not surprisingly, DIPNs were also detected in their packaged food stuffs too. A similar study in Germany also detected DIPNs in recycled food packaging and its contents.
So, what does all of this mean? According to an article in PrintWeek.com (Feb. 2008), Òenvironmental issues are shaking up the sector and helping to drive technological developmentsÓ. Advances in solvent technology have resulted in some Ònaturally based solvents to create a more environmentally friendly carbonless coatingÓ. One such company, Glatfelter (Ohio), creates CCP using its NatureSolvª capsule technology. The solvents used in this system are found in Òeveryday products from food to health and beauty itemsÓ. When they say Ònatural ingredientsÓ, they mean soy bean oil, palm extracts, and pure coconut oils. The company says that while environmentally responsible papers normally cost more, their NatureSolvª technology costs NOTHING extra. This is truly a great advancement. Although there are thousands of carbonless copy paper formulations and technologies in the market, I hope their technology finds its way into more of the receipts we all sign and receive! Freedom from paper laden with chemical pollutants will make our world a better place.
© 2009 Recycle Life, LLC
The RecyGalTM and the RecyGal character, logo are trademarks and registered copyrights of Recycle Life , LLC
References for this article were obtained from:
www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-107, “Carbonless Copy Paper”, www.osha.gov, www.highbeam.com, Article:”Smoking Gun (Health Aspects of Carbonless Paper), “The American Enterprise”, April 1, 2001., “Food contamination by diisopropylnaphthalenes from cardboard packeges”, Stuaro, et al, International Journal of Food Science and Technology (1994), Vol. 29.,www.printweek.com