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IS YOUR COMPUTER
MAKING YOU SICK?

If working on a computer gives you a headache or makes your nose feel like you're standing in the middle of a flower patch, you are not alone. Swedish researchers writing in the current journal Environmental Science & Technology say triphenyl phosphate, a flame retardant used in the plastic of video monitors and other products, causes allergic reactions in some people. These reactions range from itching and nasal congestion to headaches.

As most people who use computers realize, after the monitor has been on for some time it heats up - to between 122 and 131 degrees F the researchers say. Conny Ostman, from Stockholm University and lead author of the study, says this normal rise in temperature causes the monitor to emit the chemical compound, triggering a reaction in some people. While Ostman says researchers do not know how much exposure is needed to cause an allergic reaction, they do know newer models emit more of the triphenyl phosphate 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.

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers measured the air within two feet in front of the monitor, which they called the "breathing zone," for traces of the compound. Although they say emissions levels dropped sharply after eight days of continuous operation, the concentration of the flame retardant remained 10 times higher than the background level even after 183 days - roughly the equivalent of 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 scientists found 10 of the 18 brand-new video monitors they tested gave off appreciable amounts of the compound. Ostman declined to name the manufacturers, saying that nearly all manufacturers use the same flame-retardant compound but in varying amounts depending on the place of manufacture.

Written by: Environmental Science & Technology Journal


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