Warning: Laser printers could be a health hazard

Your laser printer could be spewing toner over your home or office, according to an Australian air quality researcher

Some home and office laser printers pose serious health risks and may spew out as much particulate matter as a cigarette smoker inhales, an Australian air quality researcher said Tuesday.

The study, appearing today in the online edition of the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology journal, measured particulate output of 62 laser printers, including models from name brands such as Canon, Hewlett-Packard, and Ricoh. Particle emissions, believed to be toner -- the finely ground powder used to form images and characters on paper -- were measured in an open office floor plan, then ranked.

Specific printer results are listed in the published study.

What they found
Lidia Morawska and colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology classified 17 of the 62 printers, or 27 percent, as "high particle emitters"; one of the 17 pumped out particulates at a rate comparable with emissions from cigarette smoking, the study said.

Morawska called the emissions "a significant health threat" because of the particles' small size, which makes them easy to inhale and get lodged in the deepest and smallest passageways of the lungs. The effects, she said, can range from simple irritation to much more serious illnesses, including cardiovascular problems or cancer. "Even very small concentrations can be related to health hazards," said Morawska. "Where the concentrations are significantly elevated means there is potentially a considerable hazard."

Two printers released medium levels of particulates, six issued low levels, and 37 -- or about 60 percent of those tested -- released no particles at all. HP, which is one of the world's leading printer sellers, dominated both the list of high-level emitting and non-emitting printers.

HP's response
When contacted by IDG, the company issued this statement: "HP is currently reviewing the Queensland University of Technology research on particle emission characteristics of office printers. Vigorous tests under standardized operating conditions are an integral part of HP's research and development and its strict quality control procedures.

"As part of these quality controls, HP assesses its LaserJet printing systems, original HP print cartridges, and papers for dust release and possible material emissions to ensure compliance with applicable international health and safety requirements."

More study results
The research also found that office particulate levels increased fivefold during work hours because of laser printers. Generally, more particles were emitted when the printer was using a new toner cartridge, and when printing graphics or photographs that require larger amounts of toner than, say, text.

Morawska recommended that people make sure rooms at work and home with laser printers are well ventilated.

This story, "Warning: Laser printers could be a health hazard" was originally published by Computerworld.

Mobile Security Insider: iOS vs. Android vs. BlackBerry vs. Windows Phone
Recommended
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies