Fears Grow That Laser Printers Can Seriously Damage Health

In the age of personal computers and the internet, living without a printer can be challenging indeed. But if you have a laser printer, you might want to think again before hitting the "Print" button. In a research study in the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology, researchers found that some laser printers release tiny particles of toner-like material into the air; these ultrafine particles are particularly dangerous because of their microscopic size, allowing them to be inhaled into the smallest passageways of the lungs. Lida Morawska, PhD, and her colleagues in Australia classified 17 out of 62 printers as "high particle emitters." The scientists state that "One of the printers released particles into an experimental chamber at a rate comparable to the particle emissions from cigarette smoking." The particles are believed to be excess toner not fused onto the paper.

Fortunately, the majority of printers aren't as bad as the one cited above. Thirty-seven of the sixty-two released no particles that diminished air quality, while six only released low levels, and two released medium levels. The study was conducted both in a typical office environment, as well as in an experimental chamber, and included popular models from Canon, HP, Ricoh, and Toshiba. "It wasn't an area we consciously decided to study," Morawska said in an interview. "We came across it by chance. Initially we were studying the efficiency of ventilation systems to protect office settings from outdoor air pollutants. We soon realized that we were seeing air pollution originating indoors, from laser printers." During work hours, indoor particle levels in the office air increased as much as five times. Scientists are now calling upon the government to consider regulating emission levels from laser printers.

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