Office printers can be as harmful to humans as cigarettes, says a new report. Research from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) suggests that office printers can damage office workers’ lungs by emitting dangerous levels of toner into the air.
The study, conducted by Professor Lidia Morawska from QUT’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, found that out of 62 laser printers tested, 17 were "high particle emitters".
Some of the printer makes named in the report include Ricoh, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Toshiba.
Morawska said: "Most of the particles detected in the study were ultrafine particles. Ultrafine particles are of most concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can pose a significant health threat.
"The health effects from inhaling ultrafine particles depend on particle composition, but the results can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illness such as cardiovascular problems and even cancer."
The study, conducted in a large open-plan office building, also found that indoor particle levels in the office atmosphere increased fivefold during work hours due to printer use.
"Printers are a common device in both the home and office environment. However, they are a potential source of indoor pollutants producing volatile organic compounds and ozone, as well as particle emissions. This study showed that printers were the most significant source of particle number concentrations in the office building."
New ink cartridges and printing requiring higher amounts of toner, such as the printing of graphics and images, were found to exacerbate the problem.
"It appears that there are large differences in emission levels between different types of printers. Many factors, such as printer model, printer age, cartridge model and cartridge age may affect the particle emission process."
Researchers would like to see the printers involved come with a health warning and are lobbying ministers to regulate toner emissions and office air quality.
"Governments regulate emission levels from outdoor devices such as vehicles, power stations and factories, so why not for printers- Morawska said.
The research also suggests that companies should relocate printers into areas that are well-ventilated so that particles can be more safely dispersed.
A spokesman for Ricoh told OPI: "Ricoh has not yet seen the final report and is interested in viewing its findings. As with all electronic devices and pieces of office equipment, Ricoh would always advise that printers and MFDs are located in well-ventilated areas but would like to reassure users that rigorous safety testing forms a key part of its extensive research and development programme." HP disagreed with the research. The company said: "HP does not see an association between printer use by customers and negative health effects for volatile organic compounds."
HP’s official reaction
"After a preliminary review of the Queensland University of Technology research on particle emission characteristics of office printers, HP does not agree with its conclusion or some of the bold claims the authors have made recently in press reports.
HP stands behind the safety of its products. Testing of ultrafine particles is a very new scientific discipline. There are no indications that ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from laser printing systems are associated with special health risks. Currently, the nature and chemical composition of such particles – whether from a laser printer or from a toaster – cannot be accurately characterised by analytical technology. However, many experts believe that many of the UFPs found in common household and office products are not discrete solid particles, but may be condensation products or small droplets created during thermal processes.
"HP agrees more testing in this area is needed, which is why we’ve been active with two of the world’s leading independent authorities on this subject: Air Quality Sciences in the US and the Wilhelm-Klauditz Institute in Germany.
"Vigorous tests are an integral part of HP’s research and development and its strict quality-control procedures. HP LaserJet printing systems, original HP print cartridges and papers are tested for dust release and possible material emissions and are compliant with all applicable international health and safety requirements. In addition to meeting or exceeding these guidelines, HP’s design criteria for its laser printing systems incorporate guidelines from both the Blue Angel programme in Germany and the Greenguard programme in the US.
"We do not believe there is a link between printer emissions and any public health risk. Specifically, HP does not see an association between printer use by customers and negative health effects for volatile organic compounds, ozone or dust. While we recognise ultrafine, fine, and coarse particles are emitted from printers, these levels are consistently below recognised occupational exposure limits."
The company concluded:"HP hopes to learn more from the study authors about how products were chosen for the study, how ranges were determined given no standards exist, and many other factors that could have influenced the results."