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article imageStudy: Office printers can be as dangerous as cigarettes

By David Silverberg     Jul 31, 2007 in Health
The supposedly benign laser printer emits dangerous particles into the air, an Australian study discovered. Watch out, office workers — new toners can be as harmful to your health as cigarette smoke.
Digital Journal — Even though most offices have banished smokers from the workplace, there’s a surprise health threat as potentially dangerous as cigarette smoking: the laser printer.
As BBC News reported, Australian scientists have discovered that some office printers emit a dangerous amount of toner in the air, possibly causing health problems ranging from respiratory irritation to cardiovascular problems. The scientists even noted some of these floating microscopic particles may be carcinogens.
Lidia Morawska, a professor from the Queensland University of Technology and one of the researchers with the project, told The Australian Age:
Ultra-fine particles are of most concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs where they can pose a significant health threat. These [printer] particles are tiny like cigarette smoke particles and, when deep inside the lung, they do the same amount of damage. The university's International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health tested 62 printers and found that 17 were “high particle emitters.” In what will surely be a blow to the printing industry, the scientists also named the more notorious culprits, according to ABC News Australia: 12 models of Hewlett Packard printers and one Toshiba printer were listed as high emitters of the dangerous particles.
But not every print job could damage a worker’s lungs: the health threat intensified when new cartridges were used and when printing graphics and images required higher quantities of toner.
Morawska offered a warning to those spending their days in enclosed workplaces. She told ABC News that offices with poor ventilation can experience a higher concentration of particles that can last an entire day, and health risks will be “quite high” for staff who spend long sessions in the office.
The Australian scientists didn’t just point out what’s wrong with these potentially harmful printers; they also recommended some possible solutions. The research team suggested governments should consider regulating emission levels from laser printers.
As Morawska told The Age:
Governments regulate emission levels from outdoor devices such as vehicles, power stations and factories, so why not for printers? Also, office managers should buy printers that are labelled as low emitters, Morawska added.
This news comes at a time when the summer heat makes the outdoor air smoggy and heavy, when urban workers are already inundated with car emissions and heat haze. Now that the indoor environment may be a potential health risk because of printer toners, what’s the average employee to do?
The Australian research team were absolutely correct when they suggested government regulation. If a new technology is discovered to be unsafe, the regulatory bodies should step and take action. Otherwise, the next pariah in the office won’t just be the pack-a-day smoker; it’ll be the laser printer spewing out 8x11 sheets and dangerous particles.
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