Study reveals dangers of printer pollution

Tiny particles released from some home and office laser printers are as dangerous to human health as inhaling cigarette smoke, scientists say.

A study by Queensland University of Technology found almost a third of printers tested emitted potentially dangerous levels of toner into the air.

Professor Lidia Morawska, of the university’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, who carried out the research, said: “Most of the particles detected in the study were ultra fine particles. Ultra fine 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 ultra fine particles depend on particle composition, but the results can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illness such as cardiovascular problems or cancer.”

The results of the study are published in the latest edition of the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology journal.

The study was carried out in a large open plan office building.

It found 17 of 62 laser printers tested were “high particle emitters” and that indoor particle levels in the office air increased fivefold during work hours due to printer use.

“Printers are a common device in both the home and office environment,” said Professor Morawska. “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.”

Generally, printers emitted more particles when the toner cartridge was new and when printing graphics and images as they need more toner.

The researchers say there appear to be large differences in emission levels between types of printers and that factors such as printer model and age, cartridge model and age may affect the emission process.

They called on governments to regulate emissions for printers in the same way as they do for vehicles, power stations and factories in a bid to improve air quality.

Meanwhile, companies were advised to make sure rooms containing printers are well-ventilated so the particles disperse.

David Gibbs

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