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Turning CMYK into Green

Touting your shop's shrinking environmental footprint makes good business sense.

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By Peggy Middendorf

The chemicals contained in inks are listed on the OEM-provided MSDS sheet. Make sure your ink provider furnishes your shop with an MSDS sheet written in English and with US health and safety regulations in mind.

Each regulated chemical has an OSHA-established 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL). Periodic air sampling must be done to determine employee exposure; samples are gathered via sampling badges (available through major safety-supply houses) worn by employees during their shift, and the sample results help shops determine if the current ventilation system is effective. Keep in mind that even if your shop is in compliance with OSHA standards, there may still be a solvent odor in the area-the odor isn’t necessarily an indicator of a hazard.

Low- and eco-solvent inks-Don’t think that you are off-the-hook if you print with low-, mild-, or eco-solvent inks. The key word here is "solvent"-these are still solvent inks, which will be apparent from the information on their MSDS sheets. Some producers of these inks state that shops don’t need an industrial-level ventilation system when using these inks-but be sure to check that your PEL levels are below the allowable limits. And some of these inks still "stink," so you may need to increase your air circulation to minimize the odor.

UV-curable inks-While UV-curable inks contain virtually no solvents, other health issues have been raised including: ozone ventilation, chemical sensitivity, skin irritation, and eye protection. UV-cure printers are typically equipped with mercury-based arc lamps that emit high-intensity light to cure the inks. The intense light causes the generation of ozone that must be vented, which is handled by most in-machine venting systems. Shielding of the light is typically included in UV-cure printers because the light can damage a human eye (for those printers without shielding, protective glasses or goggles are the way to go).

Employees won’t typically come in contact with the UV ink itself, but if they do, the fluid that is the UV-initiator for the ink can become a skin irritant. The misting of the jetted inks may cause an inhalation issue, although a well-maintained and well-ventilated machine will generally handle this. In addition, some people can develop a sensitivity or allergic reaction to the chemicals in UV-cure inks.

A developing alternative to mercury-based UV-curing is an LED UV-curing system. Phoseon’s SLM (Semiconductor Light Matrices) technology, for instance, uses an array of light-emitting semiconductor devices. This LED-based curing of the inks eliminates the generation of ozone and does not emit the intense light that can damage eyes, Phoseon reports. Phoseon’s SLM array is already integrated into the wide-format Luscher JetPrint.

Ventilation systems: Many US and European manufacturers are now including ventilation or filtration systems with their printers or offering these as an option. Some are also suggesting systems or processes to minimize employee or environmental issues. The Captiv-Air system, for instance, is optional on most of Mutoh’s Toucan and Falcon printers, while Oce offers an optional Air Purification System with its CS9090. And the Duratex SP-64x from Charrette offers a CaptivAir air purifier or Island Clean Air Duster room scrubber as optional equipment. HP offers an integrated carbon-filter-based air filtration system as an option with its Designjet 10000s printer.