• Are Whiteboard Markers Giving Teachers Itchy Eyes? - Chromatography Explores

Gas Chromatography

Are Whiteboard Markers Giving Teachers Itchy Eyes? - Chromatography Explores

May 24 2019

Whiteboards seem to be everywhere. Airports use them when modern technology fails, sport’s teams use them for tactics before matches and supermarkets highlighting their latest special offers at the entrance to the store. But perhaps one of the main uses is in schools. Pupils using them in class sessions occasionally, but teachers have to use them everyday since the demise of the blackboard and scratchy sound of chalk.

But are the dry markers used on whiteboards causing problems for teachers? Could the chemicals in them be giving teachers itchy eyes? That’s what a recent study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences set out to discover. Take a trip back to school as we find out the truth.

Negatives or architectural cladding

Whiteboards or dry erase boards started being used in schools in the 1980s, but their use increased rapidly in the 1990s and now very few classrooms are without one. They were a replacement for chalk and blackboards - a system that worked well but deposited dust over most of the furniture. And with the introduction of computers into every classroom this was not an ideal scenario.

The concept of whiteboards was first realised in the 1960s. There are competing claims to the first use of a whiteboard though. In one claim, a US company produced enamelled steel sheets for cladding and someone realised that they might make ideal writing surfaces. The person with the vision left the company and set up on his own. The other claim comes from a photographer who used to write details on negatives and realised that a rewritable surface would be a good idea. But either way, the concept didn’t take off until the advent of erasable ink.

Is the ink safe though?

There are many different inks available for whiteboard use. But are they all safe? That is what the research published in the paper Influence of dry erase ink solvent mixtures on eye irritation set out to discover. The team from Egerton University in Kenya analysed whiteboard and dry eraser use in thirteen schools covering over 200 teachers. The data on eye irritation was collected using questionnaires.

There were three main brands of ink used in the schools and the VOCs from these pens were analysed using gas chromatography. The use of GC to analyse volatile compounds is discussed in the article, High-resolution MS coupled to Photoionization-GC×GC for Petrochemicals Characterisation. The researchers found the solvents used in the inks were: 1) methanol and acetone, 2) acetone and hexane, and 3) ethanol and hexane.

Based on the questionnaires they carried out, the researchers report:

that mixtures of ethanol and hexane as well as acetone and hexane were more potent eye irritants than the mixture of methanol and acetone. Therefore, substituting inks 2 and 3 with ink 1 would reduce the risk of eye irritation.


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