Emissions from popular laser printers may be carcinogenic. How will HP respond?

Emissions from popular laser printers may be carcinogenic. How will HP respond?

Summary: 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.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Hewlett-Packard
22

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 printers were 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.

Topic: Hewlett-Packard

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

22 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Everything on God's green earth...

    Everything on God's green earth produces something harmful to others...!

    Headline:
    Warning to all computer users. Excessive reading of ZDNet causes excess spurious emissions of light energy from laptop screens which causes blindness in lab animals.

    This is tenement to another frivolous lawsuit coming up because someone doesn't like the ozone smell that gets emitted from some printers during operation. You know; I used to repair TV's back in the 60's and I can't count the numbers of TV's that emitted ozone when on, and nobody complained about those!!!
    jskline0@...
    • Repetitive Stress Injury - suffering technology

      mouse and keyboard manufacturers avoid health issues
      by applying a sticker warning the consumer of the risk of use.


      SO, your new printer will come with a new sticker,
      problem solved
      not of this world
  • Carcinogenic?

    David,

    The full report is available here: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/esthag/asap/html/es063049z.html

    I'm somewhat dismayed by your reporting:

    1) The report was published last December but the popular media (and you) didn't pick up on it until yesterday. Slow news day?

    2) No where in the article did the researchers use the word "Cancer" nor "carcinogen", but you quote a Sydney newspaper that uses the term. Ratings grab?

    C'mon, I expect better than a rehash of some newspaper in Sydney ...
    woodp5
    • DID YOU READ IT?

      Received for review December 21, 2006 - that the date they have sent it IN PRIVATE for review.
      Accepted June 27, 2007 - thats the date it was accepted for publication.
      Web Release Date: August 1, 2007 - thats the date it was published.
      In research, it is customary to use the publication date because the submission date is meaningless! and varies from publisher to publisher etc.

      as for the reference to cancer: However, they are a potential source of indoor pollutants (5-7), producing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone (6-10), as well as a variety of particle emissions (6, 7, 9, 11-13).
      Juste check what is meant by pollutants and VOC...
      Here I agree that it is quite a stretch to use the word "carcinogenic" but we do not even know if the author refers to the same paper....
      sashkashurik
      • Thank you sashkashurik....

        for your submission, this adds greatly to the discussion. I submit though, that we got more important things to worry about. Scientist are always looking for a research dollar and I take most of their chicken little warnings with a grain of salt; but there is one coming event that DOES cause concern, in my opinion.

        Geophysicists have noticed that our magnetosphere is going to reverse polarity any moment now and the geologic record shows that his is in fact due to happen some time soon. When this event occurs our "Van Allen Belt" that protects our planet against the cosmic radiation and the sun's rays will collapse and will not reappear until the polarity shift stabilizes. This could expose us to the solar wind and might even erode part of the upper atmosphere! Paleontologist don't know how long past events like these have lasted but it is estimated that it could last as long as a millenium; worst case senario.

        I don't know about you, but I would be more worried about this event as we will all be wearing radiation suits by then and cancer rates will skyrocket. Who knows how this will affect plant life; there has been several extinction events in earth history that are not explained by asteroid impacts!
        JCitizen
  • In a world with regulatory bodies, governments in bed with big business...

    ...there is little left in terms of protecting people.
    It is important to publish findings such as the above, but I find it a bit unfair to single out and name a handful of manufacturers and printer models when other printers may be even worse.
    It would be nice to force mandatory emission labelling on all products. Too bad we know so little about all the pollutants around us. We know even less about the combined effect of multiple pollutants, e.g. the same printers also emit ozone which then may react with chemicals in air "fresheners" to produce formaldehyde and other suspected carcinogens.
    tomatoman
  • What will they think of next?

    So, the CRTs were going to kill us by emitting Gamma rays, remember? I reject the premise of this story out of hand. I need to see the actual scientific data on this, yet another example environmental stupidity perpetrated on us. I have had a Laserjet sitting by me for the last decade and a half and have yet to see any evidence that it is oozing out the toner any any noticeable quantities. This is another trick by the environmentalists.

    Advise to HP: Ask these guys one simple question: Prove it?
    Then quietly ignore them.
    pradipsagdeo@...
  • Bad opener.

    Exactly was does "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." mean?

    That was a confusing and poorly written opening sentence.
    dhickman@...
  • While it was a slow newsday....

    While the subject of the article is frivolous, you would have to sit next to a printer that was working all the time for an 8 hour day to get the results from this study.<br><br>

    You have more chance of catching something from shaking someones hand than an HP laser printer. This is just the newest false positive from scientist that have nothing better to do.
    k12IT
  • The most likely alternative...

    ...is that pioneered by tobacco companies: fund research that supports the party line and negates any negative findings. It's possible that HP will do the right thing and address any safety issues with regard to their printers (I think that's what the founders would have done), but the recent history of HP makes this seem unlikely, to say the least.
    John L. Ries
  • TAX

    Obviously californiia will impose a tax on laser refills to pay the hospital bills.
    The_Quietman
  • Not New

    Back a few years ago this same issue came up for both printers and copiers - specifically around the ozone and other VOC emissions of the equipment - and since it was not really known whether it was carcinogenic at the time the only recourse was a filter that was retrofitted to the various units by the respective vendors, HP being one of them. I still have a fairly old HP Laser Jet which has this retrofit and in buying newer equipment, I assumed this became defacto.

    So pardon my confusion on this issue but have the vendors NOT provided these filters during manufacture since then? Or is it something that they decided was an add-on that if the consumer didn't ask for there was no need to provide? Are the current breed of peripheral equipment producing different emissions? Are these filters even doing the job at all!?

    Regardless of some opinions if your work space (often just a cubical) is surrounded by all these different units - copiers, fax machines, laser printers, etc. you DO have to contend with the smell - I believe it to be ozone - and noise and all other manners of emissions, it becomes a corporate health and safety issue which must be taken seriously by the employer. HP although a very large vendor is not the only one who needs to pay attention to this potentially damaging issue. They ALL do!
    Meesha
  • No David, laser print toner was found to ...

    ... contain carcinogens back in the early 1980's. (Thats when I first learned about it anyway!) No ever did anything about it and no one will do anythign about it now! This is old news with new research to back it up.
    M Wagner
  • Message has been deleted.

    kevencage
  • Office Copiers also

    Don't forget that most office copiers purchased in the last 3 years are actually laser printers.
    fklangva@...
  • Don't worry, they're made in China

    We'll just ban those too
    pwoon@...
  • Made in China?

    What do you mean "Don't worry. They are made in China."?
    Do you have heard about the horrible tragedy in Minneapolis on 2 Aug, 2007? ??????????????????????????

    http://www.usome.com
    lmhooo
  • Made in China?

    What do you mean "Don't worry. They are made in China."?
    Do you have heard about the horrible tragedy in Minneapolis on 2 Aug, 2007? Don't worry! It happened in America.

    http://www.usome.com
    lmhooo
  • Laser printers and previous research on other contaminants from Nature

    The scientist who found "problems" with laser printers reminds me of other scientists who have worked on other "contaminants", such as mercury, lead, and arsenic. But there were problems with their experimental designs:

    Nature's own drinking water contamination

    Recently there has been controversy over the change in arsenic (As) standards and in Mercury (Hg) standards. If those who want tighter arsenic standards in drinking water had true geologic knowledge, they would know that both arsenic and mercury are some of the many elements that Nature put in the earth and that the groundwater has picked up over the thousands of years. Often, arsenic (As) is associated with gold deposits, even low grade, and other sulfide ore deposits. In many places in the USA, there are geological deposits of the mineral cinnabar (mercury sulfide) and pure mercury, such as the Big Bend area of Texas near the Rio Grande river. Over geological time, the groundwater has picked up mercury in many places over thousands of years. There are also geological formations that contain trace amounts of mercury in their sediments that for eons have been washing into the rivers, groundwater, and soils. In many drinking water sources, there are a number of other elements in natural drinking water, such as uranium, lead, molybdenum, nickel, sulfur, etc. that originated from natural mineral deposits.

    Some researchers have been giving statements that are not based upon complete analysis, but come across as fear. One researched stated "all the time people were dying of cancers now associated with drinking that arsenic-contaminated water". But we would have to assume that all autopsies of ancient and modern humans has shown a 100% statistical correlation to arsenic and not to other factors, such as other chemicals, other metals, diet, sun exposure, prescription drug effects, genetics, other elements, etc. In addition, a number of other studies did not show good statistical analysis / correlation on the level of arsenic (percent or parts per million) and health effects. The residents of Amargosa Valley and Beatty in Nevada and the Death Valley areas in California have elevated levels of arsenic in their drinking waters, but cancers are not prevalent there. A number of residents several of us know have lived to the age of 80s and 90s. How do we explain that?

    In talking to the environmental and biological scientists on the West Coast about this issue, a peculiar point was brought up. Most of them have mathematically matched arsenic levels to human health affects through regression methods. These methods assume a straight statistical correlation between the input of arsenic and the output (health affects). But how could they have known what other elements in the drinking water were doing in conjunction with arsenic? None of these scientists have filtered out those inputs that are either not affecting the output, or are affecting in minor ways, or are affecting in combined effects that do not show up until certain conditions are correct. The methods are the analyses of variances and other advanced techniques, which do not appear to be well known by these scientists. Few scientists and researchers know how to use statistics properly to be able to filter and view data for the actual, true cause-and-effects. Too many times researchers use statistical regression methods that assume a direct relationship between the causes and effect, which may not be real. Although there are several books on the market, one of the best books that can help researchers, analysts, and scientists is a book entitled, "Statistics for Experimenters," by Box, Hunter, and Hunter.

    The groundwater was already contaminated by nature long before any mines touched the areas of the groundwaters and the associated metals / minerals. That is how most mines were found, by looking at the metal contaminations in the natural groundwater. And yet the environmental groups state that ONLY the mining companies are at fault, for what nature did before we came along? Apparently the Sierra Club and other groups (and the courts) do. And yet we are getting more and more materials and coal from Communist countries like China, thanks to Bill Clinton's agreements? What gives?

    Native peoples have been drinking water here in New Mexico and many other places for centuries with arsenic and other "contaminants," long before there was ever a Federal government to protect us from the Earth. Why don't the environmentalists understand basic Earth Sciences?

    See this link also:
    http://geoinfo.nmt.edu/publications/earthmatters/EMV2N2.pdf

    Natural arsenic and heavy metals in Alaskan waters from geological deposits:
    http://water.usgs.gov/pubs/fs/fs-083-01/
    http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/v-printer/story/6960082p-6860040c.html

    and then sulfur also:
    http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/leads.asp?ID=713#990

    Shame on Nature for doing that......
    catherineafrench
    • nice reading

      native environmental adaptation i would guess.

      nature creates life, its life's job to survive.
      not of this world