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May 2006

May 2006: Space



  • EMG News:
    May: Space
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Studio Space
  • Healthy Green Artists:
    Inside Paper
  • Behind the Art:
    Color Theory, Part 1
  • Myths and Symbols:
    Heraldry, Part I
  • Cosplay101:


  • Reaching Out: The Continuing Quest for Space
  • Dipping Into Digital, Part 1: The Tools
  • Stitching Scans


  • Movie: Silent Hill
  • Product: The New Masters of Fantasy volume III

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  • Inside Paper
    Healthy Green Artists
    by Janet Chui

    When Gutenberg printed the Bible, the parchment for one copy of the book required the skins of more than 300 sheep. Thankfully, paper, the most common surface we use today for writing, printing, and art-making no longer requires the sacrifice of bleeting animals. (If it did, think of how much worse the cost of getting an education would be!) Today, paper grows on trees.

    Oh no, you say. I know where this is going. This column is going to be about saving the rainforests!

    But if you've ever had the experience of venturing close to a paper mill, and smelled the air there, read on. The pulp and paper industry ranks third among industrial sectors in air emissions of chemicals listed on the Toxics Release Inventory, and fifth in discharges of these chemicals to surface water. This column is about chemistry, and saving ourselves!

    The typical white typing paper you use in your printer is the result of centuries of adaptation and experimentation. For such a simple, clean, innocuous product, it takes a long process to go from "tree" to a light, flat object on which to physically record ephemeral ideas. So here we go:

    Lignin - is the organic compound in wood that makes wood rigid. Typically making up one quarter to one-third of the dry mass of wood, it must be removed from the wood chips to obtain the fibre for papermaking. Paper manufacturers now typically mix wood chips from whole trees with recovered paper and the wood waste left behind from lumber manufacturing. The relative proportions of these 3 source materials differ from paper to paper and manufacturer to manufacturer.

    Sodium hydroxide - is a caustic metallic base you may also know as lye or caustic soda. It's a useful substance that helps produce soap, ice cream, chocolate and other good stuff. In paper manufacture, it is one of the chemicals used to "cook" wood chips in the delignification or "kraft pulping" process.

    Sodium sulfide - the other main chemical used in delignification. It is also the main culprit for that unmistakable smell around paper mills that is reminiscent of rotten eggs. It is corrosive, caustic, hazardous�fatal if one is directly exposed to it in high concentrations. Headaches and eye and breathing irritations are common when this output from a mill is not being dissipated into the atmosphere due to weather conditions. People working at paper mills will attest, however, that one can get used to it.

    "Black liquor" - the dark colored residue from the delignification process that contains the remaining lignin and chemicals from kraft pulping. This waste is burned in the paper mill to help produce electricity to run the mill.

    Mercury - a highly toxic substance that can cause acute respiratory problems, neurological damage, and affect the kidneys and gastrointestinal system. It is an occasional contaminant in caustic soda, and is also contained in Thiomersal, which is used as an antiseptic and antifungal agent. It is also released in the burning of coal which powers a lot of industry.

    Sulfur dioxide - is an air pollutant and major contributor to acid rain. It can irritate breathing, cause changes in heart rate, and aggravate cardiovascular diseases. Children, the elderly, and people with asthma, cardiovascular disease, or chronic lung disease (such as bronchitis or emphysema) are most susceptible to its adverse effects on health. It is produced in when coal is burned at high temperatures. It may also be utilized in the bleaching process.

    Chlorine and chlorine dioxide - are the main chemicals used to bleach the pulp after the krafting process from dark brown to white. Chlorine is a poisonous, powerful, oxidizing, bleaching, and disinfecting agent. In World War I, chlorine gas was used as weapon against human beings. Exposure to even low levels of chlorine and chlorine dioxide is capable of triggering the development of asthma or other respiratory problems such as persistent coughing and wheezing.

    Dioxins - is the name for the family of chlorinated organic compounds that have been shown to bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife, and are among the most potent toxic chemicals known to us. It is created in any process of the burning of products containing chlorine (which happens at incinerators and kraft paper mills). Studies have revealed the effects of dioxins to include damage to the immune systems, decreased fertility and virility, endometriosis, birth defects, birth and developmental defects, learning disabilities, diabetes, and increased rates of all types of cancer. Dioxins produced in industrial processes travel by air. They are then ingested when we consume contaminated vegetables, milk and meat.

    In the �80s, the levels of dioxins around paper mills (and downstream from paper mills) was found to be quite hazardous to the humans and wildlife. Chlorine was the primary chemical used to bleach pulp in the papermaking process�today, chorine dioxide is more frequently used instead. Although you could find documentation that this has cut dioxin output from paper mills down to zero (mostly claimed by agencies associated with the papermaking and chlorine dioxide business), various state environmental agencies in the U.S. say, however, that dioxins from before the �90s still persist, and the bleaching process in paper mills using chlorine dioxide is still capable of producing dioxins. (This is also besides the fact that paper mills still discharge sulfides and sulfur dioxide into the air, as well as mercury and lead into sludge ponds close to rivers.)

    So what's a toxin and dioxin-fearing artist to do (besides moving further away from paper mills)? Well, in Europe, and now from a handful of companies in the U.S., totally chlorine-free (TCF) and processed chlorine-free (PCF) paper are being offered. TCF paper is made from totally chorine-free virgin pulp, with no chlorine or chlorine-compound bleaching agents. PCF paper has a recycled content that has not been re-processed with chlorine, and any virgin pulp used is totally chlorine-free. There is also elementally chlorine free (ECF) paper�no chlorine gas, but other chemicals containing chlorine are used for bleaching. ECF paper is often misrepresented as TCF.

    In the U.S., one does have to look harder for TCF and PCF paper, but the supply is growing. One can also look for unbleached products for consumption use. (Think paper plates, coffee filters, paper towels, and hygiene products.) Your shopping choices may help paper businesses and suppliers decide to stock more chlorine-free products, and in the long run help the environment and ourselves.

    And now, at last, we come to the trees. (Well, it had to be tackled!) For the 2,000 years that humans have used paper, it was only been within the last 2 centuries that trees became the primary source of the fibre used in paper making. (Before trees, rags were the primary source of fibre, to the extent that rags were valuable enough to force governments to enact laws prohibiting their export from a country.) When inventors discovered that trees could make paper, the materials seemed ideal because the forests in America seemed vast and inexhaustible.

    America's forests currently contribute 30% of paper to the world's global supply. Logging, which previously happened primarily in the Pacific Northwest, has now shifted to the South, which now produces 25% of the world's paper. This means a cutting down of 14 million trees annually. Now, paper manufacturers and loggers will claim that they plant replacement trees (which they do) and that due to their efforts, the US in fact has more trees now than 70 years ago. But the replacements are highly dosed - via dusting - with lethal chemicals including poisonous fertilizers, pesticides, and heribicide that stifle the local natural plant life. (After all, the fate of the new trees is to become future paper.) In the Cumberland Mountains, residents close to such forests experience headaches, nausea, burning lungs, nosebleeds, skin rashes, and SARD (severe airway restrictive disorder) when the chemical cocktails drift over to their homes.

    Even though recycled paper, or paper with recycled content is now on the market, 93% of the paper sold today still comes from trees. One tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year. (And it shouldn't give us the excuse to produce more pollution if we save the trees!) Each year Americans use about 600 pounds of paper per person. (The United States has less than 5% of the world's population, but consumes more than 30% of the world's paper.) Annually, the United States as a whole uses 85.5 million tons of paper, of which 22% is recycled. Of the remaining paper, 70% or 46 million tons is recyclable. Those 46 million tons could save 782 million trees. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees (35� tall), 7,000 gallons of water, 2 barrels of oil (enough fuel to run the average car for 1260 miles or from Dallas to Los Angeles), 4100 kilowatts of energy (enough power for the average home for 6 months), 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space (one family size pick-up truck), and 60 pounds of air pollution.

    I get it, Janet, you say. I'll recycle my paper. I'll use less paper. I'll buy more unbleached paper, recycled paper (look for post-consumer recycled paper) and tree-free paper. I'll buy stuff with less packaging.

    And that isn't so hard now, is it? Next month, we'll be exploring post-consumer recycled paper more closely, and the environmentally and people-friendly alternatives to traditional wood-based paper, as well as alternative surfaces for artists to work with!

    Janet Chui

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