Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Health and laser printers

A recent Australian study of office air quality raised some concerns about laser printers, more specifically the toner particles emitted by them. This so-called “ultra-fine particle pollution” can contribute to respiratory illnesses, much like having secondhand smoke from a nearby indoor smoker, something no office these days permits. As one of the scientist from Queensland University is quoted as saying “If a printer operates in an indoor environment, the concentration of ultra-fine particles would be of the same order of magnitude as if there was secondhand smoke in a similar environment.”

The curious thing is that some laser printers emit no or little toner, while others emit a high level. And even printers from the same vendor can range from totally clean to polluting. While all printers pass federal safety and health regulations, the Australian study points out a new area for concern.

The Australian group is still continuing its studies (they have found, for example, that copiers are generally less of a problem), and they may well discover why some printers emit give off more particles than others. There may be a manufacturing fix that can lower the particle count on the worst offending machines.

In a practical sense, offices should become more aware of general ventilation and air exchange, something that would be useful in general, for cutting down on colds and other air-borne viruses.

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