Occupational exposure to volatile organic compounds and mitigation by push-pull local exhaust ventilation in printing plants

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-547
Journal / PublicationJournal of Occupational Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005


The extensive use of multiple organic solvents in offset lithographic printing causing high emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) indeed poses a serious risk to printing workers' health. In this study, indoor air quality (IAQ) assessments were carried out in seven printing plants and the main objectives were to understand the effect of VOC emissions on IAQ and develop effective mitigation measures to protect workers. The thorough gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) measurements showed that although a variety of VOCs were presented in the indoor air, none of them was found close to individual 8-h time-weighted average (TWA) of the occupational exposure limit (OEL). The additive effect was also found below the critical value of unity. However, short-term personal exposure to total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) was exceedingly high when a print worker carried out blanket and ink roller cleaning procedures. Therefore, the occupational health risk was mainly due to repeated short-term exposures during intermittent VOC-emitting procedures rather than long-term exposure to background VOCs. Push-pull local exhaust ventilation (LEV) was identified as an effective mitigation measure. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis was conducted to study the push-pull LEV operation. It was found that there existed a threshold LEV air flow rate for an abrupt reduction in the worker's exposure to VOCs. The reduction was less sensitive when the LEV airflow was further increased beyond the threshold. These phenomena, consistent with experimental results reported by other investigators, were explained by detailed CFD analysis showing the competition between the general ventilation and the push-pull LEV to become the dominating driving force for the resultant local flow pattern.

Research Area(s)

  • Computational fluid dynamics (CFD), Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), Printing, Push-pull local exhaust ventilation (LEV), Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)