February 3, 2012
Dear Fellow Fountain Pen Users and Friends,
You may be aware of problems we had with some of the colors of our J. Herbin fountain pen inks. A mold can develop under certain conditions and only with some particular dyes. They were primarily green and blue inks, with some browns experiencing problems as well.
FPN members were generous in contributing their bottles, time and expertise to solve this problem, and we are very grateful for your patience and support.
The head of manufacturing of J. Herbin issued this statement to us on January 18, 2012. He is fluent in English, and wrote this report primarily for you. I would like to share it with all of you—in its entirety—so you have a full picture of what J. Herbin has been doing to discover and correct these problems.
“For the last 18 months, we have been facing “slime” problems on some of our J. Herbin range of inks. This report will explain why we have been confronted to these problems and how we successfully solved them.
First of all, one may wonder why a company that has been manufacturing ink for, literally, hundreds of years is now facing such issues. Well, as harsh as it may sound to our marketing department, there is no such thing as “an everlasting formula from the old days” or a “magic recipe from our ancestors.” Actually the only constant in ink formulation is evolution…
There are two main reasons that make us modify an ink formula:
1) Chemical regulations (mainly coloring agents and pigments).
The European Union has created an agency called ECHA (European Chemical Agency) who is in charge of the REACH initiative. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals. It entered into force on 1 June 2007.
REACH is a regulation adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals. It also promotes alternative methods for the hazard assessment of substances in order to reduce the number of tests on animals.
In principle, REACH applies to all chemical substances, not only those used in industrial processes but also in our day-to-day lives, for example in cleaning products, paints as well as in articles such as clothes, furniture and electrical appliances. Therefore, the regulation has an impact on most companies across the EU.
REACH places the burden of proof on companies. To comply with the regulation, companies must identify and manage the risks linked to the substances they manufacture and market in the EU. They have to demonstrate to ECHA how the substance can be safely used, and they must communicate the risk management measures to the users.
If the risks cannot be managed, authorities can restrict the use of substances in different ways. In the long run, most hazardous substances should be substituted with less dangerous ones.
What is important to understand is that our raw material suppliers have been imposed the burden of proof. In short, prove that everything they sell is safe, whereas in the past (or in other parts of the world) they just have to demonstrate that they don’t use certain chemicals listed on a (rather short) memo.
So, from 2007 quite a lot of raw materials have changed and along them our ink formulas. What we have tried to do is, of course to keep the highest standard for the end user, but also to make our inks more environmentally friendly. For instance, we use “food-compatible” coloring agents and pigments as much as possible because they are safer for human health.
Chemical regulation is not the only factor for change. The other one is safety and work regulations.
2) Work regulations and safety
For years in his industry people have been working with powders without thinking much about protecting their respiratory system. Some of the coloring agents used a few decades ago have even been confused of inducing lung cancer and have been forbidden in France. Sadly, what’s bad for health has usually good results and is easy (thus cheap) to manufacture. On the contrary, most of the safe and modern raw materials are tough to work with. Be it either their coloring power or their preservative effect (i.e. biocides), it’s always much more difficult to obtain constant results with “clean and safe” than it was the old stuff.
As far as powders are concerned, we now use more elaborate products, often referred to as “micro chips.” They are aggregated particles of the original powder that become much heavier (although still in the microgram range) which prevents them from flying around and be inhaled by the operator.
One of their drawbacks is that they are a bit harder to mix with water. So, we have adapted our manufacturing process to them and among other things we have started to use warm water instead of cold, which as we will see later has generated unwanted side effects.
This was approximately two years ago.
Several months later, we started to receive reports stating that certain batches of these products were prone to develop “slime.”
First, we had the samples shipped back to us for analysis, since our own batch samples weren’t affected. Then the slow investigation to find out “what was causing slime” began. After a while we discovered that it was probably caused by a fungus contamination.
This kind of research takes time and is pretty hard to rush. To make things worse, only a handful of labs would agree to conduct them (most of the labs are specialized in food analysis and won’t take “nonfood” products, others work on searching hazardous substances, like mercury for example, but not on biology, etc.
When we finally got the results, we modified our preservative agent accordingly.
Still, new reports came in, showing a slightly different but still disturbing “slime.”
This time we were able to find a suitable partner to conduct the chemical studies and struck a deal with a nearby school called ITECH which mainly trains engineers and Ph.D. students for the chemical industry. They have the facilities and the manpower to assist and advise us on analysis and formulation.
Approximately eight months ago we started to suspect tap water as a possible contamination vector. So we asked ITECH to conduct a study and try to determine if our suspicions, on hot water especially, were sound.
We also proactively decided to use demineralized water instead of tap water to manufacture our inks and found an alternative way to warm it.
As a matter of fact we were right in suspecting hot water, but even water from the tap proved to be lightly contaminated by bacterial pollution.
Our demineralized water-manufactured inks, however, were totally sterile.
This demonstrated that the contamination vector was limited to water and not, as we once feared, airborne or even induced by our tools, worker hygiene, or anything else.
As we had been deceived by such good tests results in the past, we ordered a new batch of analysis to test the resilience of our new protective agent (preservative).
This time ITECH engineered what they call a “challenge test” using three types of contamination agents known to be potentially in contact with the product (bacteria, mycelia, and yeast).
Each test lasted a minimum of ten days. And they repeated it five times with one week in-between. (So, about three month time all in all)
The results were outstanding and came as a reward for all the efforts we put in improving our inks.
I hope that these detailed explanations will help understand why we came to having these issues and how we solved them. Ink formulation is a work in progress. As always, we will do our uttermost best to gain and retain your trust in perpetuating the J. Herbin tradition, even with modern constraints.
Again, I am deeply sorry for the trouble anyone has experienced with problems with J. Herbin ink. The trust and confidence of our customers is the most important to us, and one bad bottle is one too many.
Please know that not all colors or even all bottles with certain colors were contaminated. All told, in the last two years, we have replaced less than 50 bottles among thousands sold.
For U.S. residents, if you open a new bottle and see SITB, you may return it to us directly for a replacement. Please send to: Karen Doherty, Exaclair, Inc., 143 West 29th Street, Suite 1000, New York, NY 10001. If you reside outside the U.S., please email – email@example.com – and your message will be forwarded to the appropriate person for your home country.
Thank you for your continuing loyalty and support. The bottles and the emails from customers we forwarded to France helped to solve the problem.
Karen Doherty (KarenfromExaclair)