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Health hazard from copier exhaust.

Health hazard from copier exhaust

Copying machines are an indispensable part of office life, but the wet-process kind may also be making you and your co-workers ill. Canadian researchers recently studied 20 library, school, hospital and business buildings suspected of haboring agents that give their occupants headaches, irritated eyes and other maladies. Thirteen were found to contain air tainted with a group of paraffinic hydrocarbons emitted by wet-process copiers.

According to study leader Yoshio Tsuchiya of the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC) in Ottawa, these paraffinic hydrocarbons are members of a larger class of compounds called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are among the major components of indoor air pollution and are believed to contribute to "sick building syndrome.' Tsuchiya presented his findings last week at the American Chemical Society's 194th national meeting in New Orleans.

Tsuchiya was led to the copier machines as a source of VOCs in 13 office buildings because they all showed a distinct "fingerprint' or mixture of specific VOCs. In several of the buildings copier exhaust accounted for more than 90 percent of total VOC content. He also detected the copier fingerprint in an apartment containing piles of photocopied paper. "We suspect, but can't confirm [that the copied paper was the source of the VOCs],' he says.

What he has concluded, however, is that wet-process copy machines themselves may cause health problems. "Our suggestion,' he says, "is to connect the copy machine exhaust to the outside.'

In addition to office building occupants, more than 60 people asked NRCC to examine the air quality of their homes. Tsuchiya found that in most homes concentrations of all VOC's combined were "normal,' i.e., below 5 miligrams per cubic meter of air. In some cases, however, levels exceeded 10 mg/m3.

Tsuchiya's group found that unlike the distinct copier fingerprint in some offices, the composition of VOCs in each house and some office buildings was an individual affair, depending probably on building design, materials, contents and occupant lifestyle. The most common types of VOCs found in homes included ethyl alcohol (suspected of coming from fungi), halogenated hydrocarbons (probably from refrigerators and dry cleaning solvents) and terpenes from building wood. There were noncopier VOCs in offices as well. In one office conference room, for example, Tsuchiya measured high levels of automobile exhaust and subsequently discovered that the building air intake was open to the parking lot.
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Title Annotation:volatile organic compounds from wet-process copying machines may cause health problems
Author:Weisburd, Stefi
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 12, 1987
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