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June 22, 2000

Acceptable Levels of Volatile Organic Compounds Found in Copy Centers

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have identified a wide range of volatile organic compounds (VOC) discharged to indoor air from photocopier machines. VOC emissions were evaluated at three photocopy centers using a variety of air sampling techniques. Results indicate that although photocopiers emit numerous VOCs, exposure levels are well below acceptable occupational exposure standards and guidelines. Results of this study are in the June issue of Environmental Research, section A.

Lead author Aleksandr Stefaniak, MHS, IHIT, doctoral student, Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said, "Photocopiers have been implicated with indoor air quality problems. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has targeted photocopiers as a high priority for VOC pollution prevention efforts. Early studies of photocopier emissions focused primarily on ozone, and little attention was given to VOCs, even when it was limited to laboratory scale studies. The purpose of this study was to evaluate exposures to VOCs among people working with photocopiers on a daily basis."

Worker exposure to VOC emissions were evaluated at three photocopy centers, designated Copy Centers 1, 2, and 3. The exposure assessment was limited to photocopy centers because they contain multiple high-speed photocopiers working simultaneously and exposure is limited to employees. A total of eight employees were evaluated between the three photocopy centers. Personal and area air samples were collected during full shifts by drawing air though thermal desorption tubes using calibrated personal sampling pumps.

Thirty-eight different VOCs were detected by the personal samples and 54 VOCs were detected by the area samples. Overall, exposures were highest in copy center 3, most likely because of the additional presence of VOC-emitting equipment such as offset printers.

Exposures to individual VOCs were well below U.S. Occupational Safety and Health worker health. The maximum exposure was to toluene in Copy Center 3, and was equivalent to 0.3 percent of the permissible exposure limit.

Study co-author Patrick Breysse, PhD, CIH, associate professor, Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said, "When taken individually, the VOC exposures are low which may create a false sense of security. The fact is that there is growing concern about low level exposures to complex mixtures arising from sources like photocopiers. This is an important area for future research."

This study was supported by a grant from the Center for Indoor Air Research and from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.