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".
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 or 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 also found to exacerbate the problem.
"It appears that there are large differences in the 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."
The researchers would like to see the printers involved come with a health warning and are lobbying ministers to regulate toner emissions and air quality in office environments.
"Governments regulate emission levels from outdoor devices such as vehicles, power stations and factories, so why not for printers-, she 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, one of the companies named in the report, told OPI’s Executive Briefing: "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.
"Regular tests have proven that the air quality from Ricoh’s machines is consistently well above the standards set by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and we will continue to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of our customers is paramount to the company."