Two years ago, I pondered whether the bill cell phone companies were the next "big tobacco" after it had come to light that cellco's were over-meddling in the work of independent researchers at the University of Washington. Not only did cellco's look to discredit the research before it was published, a lobbying organization for the cell phone industry that dispenses funds for such research attempted to control testing methodologies as a part of its grant process.
I still think that Rob Harrill, the author of the article that blew the whistle on the cell phone business deserved more national recognition than he got. CASE, "a a professional organization for communications, alumni relations and development in higher education and secondary education" awarded him a medal saying "The judges praised it as unusually candid and even daring for a university publication."
Now, in a discovery that appears to have happened by chance, researchers have found that laser printers are responsible for a significant amount of potentially carcinogenic emissions. HP, a central manufacturer in the probe, appears to have taken the brunt of the criticism too. According to ZDNet UK's Peter Judge and David Meyer:
Emissions from office laser printers can be as unhealthy as cigarette smoke, according to an Australian professor who is now calling for regulations to limit printer emissions.
Office workers breathing easy since smoking was banned in public places in the United States and the United Kingdom have new reason to worry, according to research from the Queensland University of Technology's Air Quality and Health Program, led by physics professor Lidia Morawska.
The average printer releases toner particles that can get deep into the lungs and cause respiratory problems and cardiovascular trouble.....The team tested 62 laser printer models--all relatively new--and found that 17 of them were "high emitters" of toner particles..... The particles have not had a full chemical analysis, but some are potential carcinogens, according to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald. Several of the high emitters were Hewlett-Packard LaserJet models, such as the 1320 and 4250, although eight
HP LaserJet 4050 series printerswere shown to have no emissions, according to reports. The printer emissions data were discovered by chance when an investigation of office ventilation systems, carried out jointly between the university and the Queensland Department of Public Works, found five times as many particles indoors as those produced by traffic outdoors. Using an electronic sniffer, researchers traced the emissions to printers. The emissions were found to increase during the day, when printers were left on standby or in full operation.
Now, the big question is how the manufacturers will respond. Will they go the big tobacco/cellco route and look to discredit the research? Or will they acknowledge the research, say they take it very seriously, and look to address the design of their printers in such a way that it passes muster with the testing methodologies that were used by the Australian researchers? According to a story that appeared on ComputerWorld's Web site yesterday:
....an HP spokeswoman said that the company's engineers and research and development staff are reviewing the research paper and that they would not have a detailed response until tomorrow.
That means we should be hearing from HP today (Update: HP has responded). Hopefully, we'll hear from the other manufacturers whose printers were tested too: Canon, Ricoh, and Toshiba.