What is EPA's DfE  Program?

EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Program is
located within the Economics, Exposure and
Technology Division of EPA's Office of Pollution
Prevention and Toxics. DfE projects help businesses
design products, processes, and management systems
that are cost-effective, cleaner, and safer for workers and
the public. DfE's goals are to:

• Encourage businesses to incorporate environmental
  information into their decision criteria, and
• Facilitate continuous environmental improvement.
To accomplish these goals, DfE and its partners use
several  approaches, including cleaner technology and
life-cycle assessments, environmental management
systems, formulation improvements, best practices and
green supply-chain initiatives. In addition to flexogra-
phy, DfE has forged partnerships with a variety of
industries, such as other types of printing, the automo-
tive industry, industrial laundries, and electronics.

The DfE Flexo Project is a voluntary collaboration
between representatives of the flexo industry and EPA,
to help businesses help the environment. The Flexo
Project has developed a variety of materials, including a
two volume technical report known as a cleaner tech-
nologies substitutes assessment (CTSA), a summary
report based on the CTSA, a flowchart for ink formula-
tors, and other documents to help you practice pollu-
tion prevention.
For printed copies of this or any DfE document,
contact the National Service Center for Environmental
       telephone: 1-800-490-9198
DfE publications are all available for downloading from
our website:
For more information about the DfE Program, call
202-564-8780 or send e-mail to dfe@epa.gov.

Office  of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (7404)
April 2002
EPA 744-F-02-004
*   Options for
    Cleaner Flexo  Inks
     Highlights from the
     Flexo  CTSA
What is the  Flexo  CTSA?

To protect workers and the  environment, print-
ers and ink formulators need more information
about all aspects of inks, especially their chemi-
cal hazards, exposures, and  risks. Flexographic
Ink Options: A Cleaner Technologies Substitutes
Assessment (CTSA) evaluated solvent-based,
water-based, and ultraviolet-cured ink systems as
printed on wide-web film substrates. This study
assessed the performance, environmental,
human health, and cost aspects of 45 ink formu-
lations. The CTSA provides information to help
printers and formulators make responsible ink
choices and consider a variety of factors when
choosing or evaluating ink systems or specific for-

A few highlights of the study's findings follow.

• No ink system was superior across perform-
  ance, environmental, health, and cost criteria,
  but each system had advantages.
• All ink systems contained chemicals of clear
  concern for health risks to flexo prep- and
  pressroom workers, although none  showed pre-
  dicted risks to nearby residents.
• Some water-based and UV-cured ink formula-
  tions demonstrated improvements over
  solvent-based inks in worker safety, reduced
  concerns for health and environmental risk,
  and lower material costs.
• Press speed, not the ink system, was the main
  determinant of overall cost.
• UV-cured systems consumed the least  ink.
• Water-based systems used the least energy.
Goals of the  Flexo  Project

• Identify and  inform industry about
  comparative chemical risks in inks,
  including unregulated ones that
  present opportunities for proactive,
  voluntary risk management.
• Facilitate the use and formulation of
                                                                                                                  Encourage adoption of workplace
                                                                                                                  practices that minimize exposure to
                                                                                                                  chemicals of concern.
                                                                                                                 Flexo  Project  Partners

                                                                                                                 • California Film Extruders and
                                                                                                                  Converters Association
                                                                                                                 • Film and Bag Federation
                                                                                                                 • Flexible Packaging Association
                                                                                                                 • Flexographic Technical Association
                                                                                                                 • National Association of Printing Ink
                                                                                                                 • Printers
                                                                                                                 • RadTech International
                                                                                                                 • Suppliers
                                                                                                                 • University of Tennessee
                                                                                                                 • Western Michigan University

                                                               More Help for  Formulators:  The DIE booklet, "Developing Cleaner Ink Formulations: A Flowchart
                                                               for Ink Formulators," provides ideas for how to develop and implement a process for assessing inks. You
                                                               can download the booklet from the DfE website (www.epa.gov/dfe). To order printed booklets, contact
                                                               NCEPI at the address on the back  of this  brochure.
What's in the Flexo CTSA?

The Flexo CTSA contains a wealth of informa-
tion to help guide ink choices, including —
• toxicity, estimated exposure, and predicted risk
  information on about 100 flexographic ink
• health concerns relevant to press- and prep-
  room workers and their management.
• aquatic toxicity information useful in the event
  of an inadvertent release to water.
• performance of each of the ink formulations on
  18 different tests.
• material, labor, capital, and energy assessments
  of the three flexographic ink systems.
• other costs to consider when evaluating inks,
  including disposal, storage, and clean-up.
• options to increase the efficiency and control of
  environmental emissions from flexo printing.

Which  Ink System  Was the

The CTSA studied solvent-based, water-based,
and UV-cured ink  systems. The study found that
each of the ink systems had  different advantages
as well as health and environmental concerns.
Even within a single  ink system, different inks
showed a wide range of results. Interestingly, some
water-based and UV-cured formulations had lower
environmental and health hazards and risks.
Specifically, the CTSA found that—

• Although all ink systems showed dermal risks,
  these can be effectively managed by requiring
  workers to wear appropriate gloves when handling
• Solvent-based inks had relatively high levels of uncap-
  tured VOC emissions, leading to inhalation risk con-
  cerns for workers that were not addressed by using
  oxidizers. Solvent-based categories with chemicals of
  concern for workers included certain alcohols and
  propylene glycol ethers.
• Even without oxidizers, most water-based formula-
  tions showed less than one-fourth the VOC emissions
  of the solvent-based inks. Categories  in the water-
  based inks that contained chemicals with worker
  health concerns included certain alcohols, amides,
  and ethylene glycol ethers.
• Fewer UV-cured formulations showed concerns for
  worker health risks than did solvent- or water-based
  formulations. UV ink categories of acrylated polyols
  and amides or nitrogenous compounds did contain
  chemicals of inhalation concern for workers.
• Over half the chemicals in the CTSA showed  a high
  or medium hazard to aquatic environments.
The concerns identified by the CTSA varied by formula-
tion, and were related to the specific chemicals in the for-
mulations. To work safely with flexo inks so that workers
and the environment are protected, you need to learn as
much as possible about the hazards, exposures, and
risks of ink chemicals.

How Can You Reduce Health
and  Environmental  Impacts?

Responsible use of flexo inks requires reducing or elimi-
nating environmental discharges, supporting  research
on untested and inadequately tested ink chemicals, and
implementing changes in workplace practices, technol-
ogy, and materials. Here are some tips for reducing risks,
supported by the CTSA findings.

Tips for Flexographers
• Different formulations may pose different worker
  health and environmental concerns. Also, each print-
  ing facility operates with a unique combination of
  customers, equipment, product specialties, and labor
  resources.  Just changing ink formulations within the
  same system may help your facility operate more
  cleanly, ^tbu may also consider another ink system if
  you have evidence that it will be cleaner for your
• Reduce  inhalation risks by providing good ventilation
  in prep- and pressrooms, and by creating and enforc-
  ing mask and respirator policies.
• Minimize  your workers' dermal exposure to inks.
  Gloves are an economical and simple way to signifi-
  cantly reduce health risks.
• Ask your ink supplier for recommendations on appro-
  priate gloves, and take all other safety precautions.
• If you use  solvent-based inks, keep your oxidizers in
  prime working condition.
• If you use  water-based inks without an oxidizer, select
  inks containing the lowest possible percentage of
  VOCs and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
• Minimize  the use of press-side solvents and other
• Talk with your supplier, who can help you make fully
  informed ink choices.
Tips for Ink Companies
• Encourage your customers  to use cleaner inks.
• Train your sales force on environmental and worker
  health issues.
• Conduct and support research on environmental and
  health risks with the goal of developing cleaner ink
  formulations, and make improved ink safety a top
  goal of research and development.
• Set up partnerships to help you obtain expert infor-
  mation and analysis about ink chemicals. Find part-
  ners within your company, as well as among your
  suppliers, customers, trade associations, even the
  community in which your business is located.

Worried about Cost  — Who Isn't?

The CTSA found that press speed is likely to be the
single most significant factor in determining the cost-
competitiveness of ink systems, since it influences labor,
capital, and energy costs. At equal press speeds,  the
water-based systems had lower operating costs than the
solvent-based and UV-cured systems.

An important point  is that inks with fewer and less
serious environmental and worker risk concerns can have
lower costs in many categories, such as

• regulatory requirements,
• insurance needs,
• air emissions,
• wastewater releases,
• solid waste disposal, and
• liability, mediation, and litigation.

To accurately determine the overall cost of any ink
system, you need to analyze each step of the printing
process,  starting with ink systems and additives. It is
equally important to include the costs of protecting
your workers and the environment.