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Particle emissions from laser printers could pose health concerns

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Certain laser printers used in offices and homes release tiny particles of toner-like material into the air that people can inhale deep into lungs where they may pose a health hazard, scientists are reporting, according to a July 31, 2007 news release, "Particle emissions from laser printers might pose health concern," Researchers explained in a recent study that particle emissions from laser printers might pose health concern. Their study was published in the August 1, 2007 online issue of the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), a semi-monthly journal.

An Australian research study was made public that implied that certain laser printers (including models popular in the US) release ultrafine particles hazardous to our health. Lidia Morawska of the Queensland University of Technology, along with colleagues in Australia, reported in the August 1, 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology that some laser printers release ultrafine particles of toner-like material into the air, according to the August 5, 2007 article, "Laser printers may pose health hazard - IEEE Spectrum."

If people inhale these particles into their lungs, they may pose a health hazard. The researchers looked at 62 printers and classified 17 as "high particle emitters." They think the ultrafine particles come from the toner, which is an ultrafine powder used instead of liquid ink. One of the printers released particles into an experimental chamber at a rate similar to that of a cigarette smoker, notes the article, "Laser printers may pose health hazard - IEEE Spectrum."

Are toner particles in the indoor air a health issue?

Lidia Morawska, Ph.D., and colleagues in Australia classified 17 out of 62 printers in the study as “high particle emitters” because they released such elevated quantities of particles, which the researchers believe to be toner, the ultrafine powder used in laser printers instead of ink to form text and images. Is your home computer's printer a high or a low particle emitter? Or is it the brand or type that didn't emit ultrafine particles in the indoor air?

One of the printers released particles into an experimental chamber at a rate comparable to the particle emissions from cigarette smoking, the report stated, according to the 2007 news release. It's important to check out the reports on your own printer to see whether it's the type that didn't show any emissions of ultrafine particles from the toner into the indoor air.

Thirty-seven of the 62 printers, on the other hand, released no particles that diminished air quality

Six released only low levels, and 2 medium levels. All printers were monitored in an open office, and the researchers recorded data on three laser printers in an experimental chamber. The study included popular models in the U. S. and Australia sold internationally under the Canon, HP Color Laserjet, Ricoh and Toshiba brand names.

Most of the printer-generated particles detected were ultrafine, Morawska said, in the news release, explaining that such contaminants are easily inhaled into the smallest passageways of the lungs where they could pose “a significant health threat.” Previous studies have focused on emissions of volatile organic compounds, ozone, and toner particles from office printers and copiers. However, the research left broad gaps in scientific understanding of particle emissions and airborne concentrations of particles, the report noted.

Ultrafine particles in the air?

Morawska and colleagues, who are with the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia initially were not trying to close that knowledge gap. “It wasn’t an area that we consciously decided to study,” Morawska said in an interview, according to the news release, Particle emissions from laser printers might pose health concern.

“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.”

The study found that indoor particle levels in the office air increased fivefold during work hours due to printer use

Printers emitted more particles when operating with new toner cartridges, and when printing graphics and images that require greater quantities of toner. Funded by Queensland Department of Public Works and The Cooperative Research Center for Construction Innovation, the ES&T report includes a list of the brands and models in the study classified by amount of particles emitted. As a result of the study, the scientists are calling on government officials to consider regulating emission levels from laser printers. “By all means, this is an important indoor source of pollution,” Morawska said, according to the news release. “There should be regulations.”

The health effects from inhaled ultrafine particles depend on particle composition, but the results can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illnesses, such as cardiovascular problems or cancer, Morawska said in the news release. “Even very small concentrations can be related to health hazards,” she said. “Where the concentrations are significantly elevated means there is potentially a considerable hazard.”

Larger particles also could be unhealthy without reaching the deepest parts of the lung

“Because they are larger,” Morawska added, according to the news release. “They contain more mass and can carry more toxins into the body. No matter how you look at it, there could be problems.”

Morawska said in the news release that more research on the health effects of inhaling printer-generated particles is needed. As a first step to lower risk, people should ensure that rooms in offices or houses are well ventilated to allow airborne particles to disperse. For more information, check out the site of the American Chemical Society. Now that several years have passed since this study, what's the state of your own laser printer regarding emissions of ultrafine particles from the toner into the air in your office or home? Is your printer emitting or not?

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