Sep. 19, 2000 Does computer work give you a headache? You've got company. New research suggests that emissions from the plastic of your computer's video monitor may be affecting your health, according to a Swedish study presented in the current (Sept. 15) edition of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Triphenyl phosphate - a chemical compound widely used as a flame retardant in the plastic of video monitors and other products - is known to cause allergic reactions in some people. The reactions can range from itching and nasal congestion to headaches.
The monitor emits the compound when its temperature rises during normal operations, said Conny Ostman, lead author of the study, from Stockholm University in Sweden. It is unknown how much exposure can cause an allergic reaction, he added. What is known is that new computers emit more of the compound than older ones.
"We have focused our interest on this compound since it has been proven to be a contact allergen to man and due to the fact that a number of workers in Sweden have acquired health problems related to computer work," Ostman said.
The researchers measured the level of the compound in the "breathing zone," located approximately two feet in front of the video screen. Temperatures of the operating monitors ranged between 122 degrees and 131 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers tested the bodies of computers as well, but found they contained no significant amounts of the compound.
The emissions levels dropped sharply after eight days of continuous operation, the researchers found, but remained 10 times higher than the background level even after 183 days - roughly the equivalent of approximately two years of working use.
Computers are a significant source of allergenic emissions in small indoor environments like offices, Ostman said. Even with adequate ventilation, the compound may be a potential health hazard for computer users, he continued.
The researchers found appreciable concentrations of the compound in 10 of the 18 brand-new video monitors they tested. Ostman declined to name their manufacturer, saying that nearly all manufacturers use the same flame-retardant compound. The presence and levels of triphenyl phosphate in monitors varied with the place where they were manufactured, he explained.
The research cited above was supported by the National Institute for Working Life and the Swedish Council for Work Life.
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