The National Academy of Sciences yesterday reported finding no evidence that links eye disease with daily exposure to the computer video screens used by an estimated 10 million American office workers.
A 14-member academy research group of psychologists and physicians said that radiation from video display terminals (VDTs) is too weak to cause cataracts or other eye damage, but it concluded that such factors as poorly designed equipment and improper lighting could contribute to eyestrain or headaches among workers.
"We found no scientific evidence that eye disease, cataracts or other forms of visual damage result from working with VDTs," said Dr. Edward J. Rinalducci, chairman of the panel and a vision expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Eyestrain, muscular aches and stress reported by VDT users "are probably not due to anything inherent to VDT technology," Rinalducci added. Such problems appear little different from the discomfort resulting from working for long periods at any tedious visual task, he said.
The panel's report discounted many of the fears about health effects expressed by labor unions and some employers as the VDTs' soft green glow began replacing typewriters and adding machines in thousands of offices across the nation.
The report, commissioned by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, recommended no new federal regulations to protect VDT users. Asked if such regulations were needed, panel member Dr. Harry L. Snyder said, "That would be an OSHA decision," referring to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Although no regulations specifically address exposure to VDTs in the work place, manufacturers are required by the 1968 Radiation Control Act to limit X-ray emissions from all video screens. These regulations were adopted after federal health officials found cases of cataracts that appeared to be related to high levels of X-ray radiation "leaking" from poorly designed color television sets.
Cataracts, growths on the lens of the eye, are one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, afflicting about 3 million Americans.
Dr. Lawrence W. Stark, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, dissented from the panel's conclusions on eyestrain from VDTs, but did not disagree with the conclusions regarding cataracts and related radiation effects.
He based his dissent on the possible "misinterpretation" of the report "as supporting the status quo of no standards or guidelines for VDT work places and no clear concern with unacceptable levels of ocular discomfort and visual fatigue."
Another concern expressed by some office workers has been the possibility of birth defects or high miscarriage rates linked to VDT use. Although the academy's study did not specifically address this question, the panel members noted other research that showed no apparent relationship between VDT use and miscarriage.