Negative Effects of the Printing Press

by Tiffany Ross ; Updated September 26, 2017
Printing technology has changed dramatically since the first press.

Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1451 opened lines of communication throughout the world. The advent of the printing press changed the face of journalism and education. However, pollution issues surrounding modern industrial printing and paper manufacturing have developed since Gutenberg's revelatory invention. The culmination of toxic ink and bleaches used by some modern manufacturers can have adverse effects on the surrounding environment.

History of the Printing Press

The first mechanical printing press was a culmination of ideas: the manufacturing of paper from rags, metal type and oil-based ink. Developments in printing began in Europe some time during the late 1300s and early 1400s. Trade among European capitals and Asia introduced inventors in Europe to new method of paper manufacturing using discarded rags, a much cheaper process than the calfskin formerly used in the West.

The first printed and bound books were concerned with religious topics. They were large, expensive and heavy. These were mostly used in religious ceremonies and as family heirlooms. Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer, printed the first small, portable books in 1482. The accessibility and portability of the pocket books helped the spread of literacy.

Challenging the Church

The printing of affordable books brought in a great profit and soon inspired printers to continue the pocket book practice with secular books. This influx in the amount to printed material eventually led to a great growth in literacy. It also exposed the public to printed material not censored by the church. These was a cause for concern among church leadership, as the scientific findings being circulated threatened some the popular religious views. This conflict between religion and the printing press came to a climax with a monk named Martin Luther in 1517; he was able to spread his discontent with the established church through the printed word.

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Toxic Inks

Inks used in industrial printing effect the environment in various ways. Vent fumes are fumes released by the inks into the atmosphere during printing. These fumes can be harmful when inhaled. Other inks create problems after they are discarded. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides guidelines for worker safety in the print industry, such as wearing protective gloves and masks when handling potentially harmful chemicals. Environmental regulation falls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sets pollution level standards for the chemicals used to print.

Paper Manufacturing Toxins

The chemicals required to break down the ingredients for paper production emit fumes. These fumes are toxic to workers in paper factories. According to a 1996 study published in "Allergy," some of these chemicals have caused chronic respiratory allergy symptoms that can lead to more severe respiratory issues later in life.

About the Author

Tiffany Ross is a writer and actress who has been working in Chicago since 2004. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting and is completing her Master of Science in Oriental medicine. Ross is a world traveler with experience working overseas.

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