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Heymatt:

I can't help noticing, as I sit here in my cubicle, endlessly shuffling papers and marking up documents with my yellow, pink, and blue highlighters, that the new marks are much brighter than the marks I made the day before. Are these highliters radioactive, and is the reason they lose intensity so fast because they are shedding electrons quicker than a chunk of cesium in Chernobyl? The label tells me that they are ACMI certified AP nontoxic (conforms to ASTM D4236). Is there really a governing body in charge of highlighter safety?

-- Glowing in Sorrento Valley

One governing body? When it comes to marking pens, we're such boobs it takes two governing bodies to protect us from ourselves. Now you know every office has somebody who tries to crack up the joint by walking around with stuff stuck up his nose. If he uses markers but forgets to put the caps on first, he could be in big trouble. The ACMI obviously has anticipated that scenario. They're the Art and Creative Materials Institute, a trade group founded in 1946 to test art materials for safety. "ACMI certified AP" means the formula for your marking pen ink has been reviewed by toxicologists and declared safe.

The standards the ACMI uses for potentially toxic markers are the same as those developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials. This is another much older trade group that sets safety and performance standards for, well, just about everything, as far as I can tell. D4236 is the ASTM's five-page "Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards." So if one day the guy with markers up his nose sticks his head into your cube and finds you passed out on your desk, it won't be from the ink fumes. Just boredom, judging from your letter. (Could you use a little R&R in the Futuro?) Oh, yeah. And highlighters fade fast because they contain less pigment and color stabilizer so you can read the text through the mark. Less pigment, faster fading. It also can be affected by the type of paper you're shuffling.

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