Your computer monitor may offer many advantages over your old model, but it may also have one feature that may affect your health.
According to Swedish researchers, more than half of new computer monitor displays currently being sold are treated with a flame-retardant chemical known for provoking allergic reactions -- and this compound emits from the screen into the air surrounding the computer user when heated up as a result of everyday usage.
In the September 15 issue of Environmental Science and Technology, the study authors reported that "use of this compound as an additive in video display unit (VDU) covers may be considered as a risk to human health.
Dr. Hakan Carlsson led a team of researchers at Stockholm University in two studies examining the effect of short-term and long-term computer usage on emissions of this chemical.
The researchers gathered 18 brand-new computer VDUs from seven different models manufactured by a major international company, extracting sample levels of the additive, triphenyl phosphate (TP), from the computers as well as the air surrounding them.
Carlsson and his colleagues measured emission levels after turning on the monitors for periods ranging from one day to 183 days -- the latter being the estimated equivalent of two years of average computer use in an office.
While the researchers found no TP in the plastic material of the main chassis and circuit board of any of the computers, they did detect TP in 10 out of the 18 VDUs.
In addition, the team found that when the computers are in operation for as little as one day, the temperature of the screens mounts to between 122 and 131 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the TP is released into the air.
They noted that this occurs because the chemical is not bound to the material it is protecting but rather dissolved into the outer cover and subject to vapor pressures that can cause release.
Even though emission levels dropped by almost half after a week of continuous usage, the levels within the 2-foot area in front of the computer screen, labeled the "breathing zone," were still 10 times as high as the surrounding office air even after 183 days, the report indicated.
Aside from the computer screens, this flame retardant is commonly used in a wide range of commercial products including varnishes, lubricants, plastic materials and electronic goods such as TV sets.
As for dealing with the problem associated with what is now a common part of most modern office environments, the researchers had no wholesale remedy.
They suggested, however, that the best method of minimizing the potential allergic effects of such emissions would be to "bake out" the TP chemical by turning on a new VDU for 10 days before initial use -- a step which could potentially reduce the concentration of the chemical by two-thirds within the breathing zone.
by Virginia Sutcliffe