The mineral oils used in printing inks have contributed to many workplace cancers.
THE PRINTING INDUSTRY HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED AS one of the most dangerous in terms of occupational cancers a HSE commissioned study published in the British Journal of Cancer has found. The prime cause is printing ink and the mineral oils used in its production.
The research is based on deaths and registered cases of cancer where an occupational cause can be assigned. It looked at data from 2004 and 2005 and the types of cancer that are caused by long term exposure. In the case of the printing industry, this meant 276 deaths attributed to lung cancer.
PRINTING IS ALSO IMPLICATED IN SOME BLADDER CANCERS AND other types of cancer. Most result from dermal (skin contact) or inhalation exposure to the carcinogenic agents. The report identifies 14 is use in print which alone or in combination can lead to cancer.
Mineral oils are to blame in most cases, though pigments and dyes (especially at their point of manufacture) are also implicated in cancer. This means that metal workers and other manufacturing industries also suffer cancers due to exposure, but because there is a greater risk of inhalation of mineral oils from ink fly in print, printers suffer more lung cancers of this type than other industries.
THE REPORT LOOKS AT CANCERS THAT HAVE A long latency period and the HSE admits that the incidence of work related cancers is falling, “but the risk has not been eliminated”. Nor is there consideration for vegetable derived oils which have been used to substitute mineral oils in many printing inks on environmental grounds.
However the report warns that”our estimates are almost certainly an underestimate of the true burden”. In other words the workplace root cause of the cancer is not recognised. Cancers caused by photographic processes affecting print are not distinguished by the report, though again the source has largely been eliminated by technology. Cleaning solvents with known harmful effects have also been eliminated.
THE HSE ADVICE FOR REDUCING THE INCIDENCE of workplace cancers includes elimination of the carcinogenic agent, in this case the mineral oil in the ink. And secondly to limit exposure which might be achieved through ventilation or the use of non-fly inks and even face masks when working close to a high speed press.
It also identifies strong managerial and supervisory leadership as a means of reducing risk factors, ensuring that gloves are worn where needed for example.