Newspapers Get on Board With Soybean Oil Inks

IF you think colors in Monitor photographs have been brighter lately, you're right.

That's because, like a host of other newspapers nationwide, The Christian Science Monitor has jumped on the environmental bandwagon called soybean oil-based ink.

All editions of the international daily now feature color photos printed in soy ink rather than petroleum-based ink. Because black soy ink smudges more than petroleum ink, however, the paper continues to use the petroleum-based substance for its type, says Wayne Kayser, assistant director of print publishing for The Christian Science Publishing Society, the Monitor's publisher.

The large-scale, color-ink switch was made last month at Boston Offset/USA Today, a Norwood, Mass., plant where all Monitors for the East Coast and overseas, in addition to regional issues of USA Today, five Connecticut weeklies, and commercial orders, are printed. The Monitor's plant in Chandler, Ariz., which prints papers for the United States West, opted for color soy ink more than a year ago.

Lee Miner, pressroom superintendent in Arizona, says soy ink is "the wave of the future." He adds, "It is a cleaner ink, easier to control. It's good for us and for the farmers."

Today, about 70 percent of US color newspapers - the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the Detroit Free Press included - are giving American growers a much-needed new market by using color soy ink, according to Wilson Cunningham, vice president of technical research for the American Newspaper Publishers Association (ANPA).

By contrast, only 1 percent of US newspapers use black soy ink for type, says Marvin Bagby, an oil-chemical research leader for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

For the environment, industry experts say soy ink is far superior to petroleum ink for several reasons: It uses less ink to print more papers; it is less vaporous, so plant air pollution is reduced and pollution standards can be more easily met; and it produces less and safer sludge.

Petroleum-ink sludge is considered hazardous by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As such, it is carted away from printing plants by an EPA-approved hauler, preferably to an incinerator or cement-production plant to be used again as fuel, explains Don Hensel, ANPA environmental manager.

In terms of quality, color soy ink is called preferable in the "ink rub" (smudging) and brightness/range of hue categories. "Just as important as the newspaper content, really, is the ink rub. What's the use if ink rubs off on you and you can't read the paper?" says Mr. Kayser.

Paul Mahoney, Norwood plant commercial-printing director, says that because soy oil is clearer in appearance than brownish-colored petroleum, colors produced are more vivid and varied. Pointing to a Monitor photograph of a fruit assortment, Kayser adds: "What I see now is first class. You generally don't see those kinds of colors" in other newspapers. Kayser acknowledges, though, that his trained eye can tell the inks apart, while readers might not notice.

Price is the biggest reason why few US newspapers now use black soy ink. While color soy ink costs about 10 percent more than its petroleum counterpart, black soy ink can cost twice the price.

But the USDA - which was asked by the ANPA and American Soybean Association in 1987 to experiment with ink formulas - may soon have a solution to this problem. A black ink Mr. Bagby and fellow researcher Sevim Erhan have developed could sell for roughly the same price as today's petroleum ink, says Bagby.

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