HP on potentially dangerous laser printer emissions: Our printers no riskier than toasters

HP on potentially dangerous laser printer emissions: Our printers no riskier than toasters

Summary: In yesterday's blog post about the potentially dangerous laser printer emissions that were uncovered by Queensland University of Technology in Australia, I noted that HP's LaserJets bore the brunt of the study's findings and that I'd follow up when HP delivered the response it promised. That response showed up in my e-mail late last night.

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In yesterday's blog post about the potentially dangerous laser printer emissions that were uncovered by Queensland University of Technology in Australia, I noted that HP's LaserJets bore the brunt of the study's findings and that I'd follow up when HP delivered the response it promised. That response showed up in my e-mail late last night.

Citing inadequate scientific techniques for particle analysis as well as HP's performance within certain international standards and guidelines, the company is disputing the claims of the Australian researchers. Those researchers discovered the problem 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." As can be seen from the response below, HP notes that even the emissions from toasters cannot be "accurately characterized," thus drawing into question any conclusion that the emissions from laser printers could pose health risks.

Meanwhile, since posting that first blog, I've heard from several people including ZDNet's own Marc Wagner that toner particles have been known to be carcinogenic for a long time. I did some searching on my own and while you'll see a lot of references to toner particles being carcinogenic in the search results, I was unable to find any specific citations of the problem at the various carcinogen-tracking agencies like the IARC. What I was able to determine however, is that carbon black, a material know to be used in laser printer toner, is classified by the IARC as a Class 2B carcinogen. Where as Class 1 is definitely carcinogenic and Class 2B is "probably" carcinogenic, 2B is "possibly" carcinogenic to humans. One document I found said:

The IARC evaluated carbon black, as a Group 2B carcinogen, for which there is inadequate human evidence, but sufficient animal evidence. The latter is based upon the development of lung tumors in rats receiving chronic inhalation exposure to powdered carbon black at levels that induce particle overload of the lung. However, there is a two-year inhalation study of a toner containing carbon black which demonstrated no association between toner exposure and tumor development in rats.

Even if carbon black were a probable carcinogen, connecting that dot to the particle emission study done in Australia is connection that can't be made yet. Rather than focusing on the chemical composition of emitted particles, the study focuses on their concentration and volume (a technique that is also used to rate the effects of second hand smoke). At the very least, the study raises the question of whether the tested printers produce concentrations that are unhealthy, regardless of particle type.

So, to the extent that HP is saying "you can't say our printers cause cancer because the particles in question haven't been accurately characterized to be carcinogenic," that appears to be true. Are the particles toner particles? Do they have carbon black or some other IARC-rated carcinogen in them? These questions remain unanswered. On the issue of particle concentration, HP seems to be arguing that its printers meet all accepted standards in terms of particle emission (regardless of particle type).

Here is the full response from Tuan Tran, HP's vice president of marketing for supplies:

After a preliminary review of the Queensland University of Technology research on particle emission characteristics of office printers, HP does not agree with its conclusion or some of the bold claims the authors have made recently in press reports.

HP stands behind the safety of its products. Testing of ultrafine particles is a very new scientific discipline. There are no indications that ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from laser printing systems are associated with special health risks. Currently, the nature and chemical composition of such particles whether from a laser printer or from a toaster cannot be accurately characterized by analytical technology. However, many experts believe that many of the UFPs found in common household and office products are not discrete solid particles, but may be condensation products or small droplets created during thermal processes.

HP agrees more testing in this area is needed, which is why we've been active with two of the world's leading independent authorities on this subject: Air Quality Sciences in the United States and the Wilhelm-Klauditz Institute in Germany.

Vigorous tests are an integral part of HP's research and development and its strict quality-control procedures. HP LaserJet printing systems, original HP print cartridges and papers are tested for dust release and possible material emissions and are compliant with all applicable international health and safety requirements. In addition to meeting or exceeding these guidelines, HP's design criteria for its laser printing systems incorporate guidelines from both the Blue Angel program in Germany and the Greenguard program in the United States.

Based on our own testing, HP knows that many variables can affect the outcome of tests for ultrafine particle emissions. Although HP is not aware of all of the specific methodologies used in the Queensland study, based on what we've seen in the report as well as our own work in this area, we do not believe there is a link between printer emissions and any public health risk. Specifically, HP does not see an association between printer use by customers and negative health effects for volatile organic compounds, ozone or dust. While we recognize ultrafine, fine, and coarse particles are emitted from printing systems, these levels are consistently below recognized occupational exposure limits.

HP hopes to learn more from the study authors about how products were chosen for the study, how ranges were determined given no standards exist, and many other factors that could have influenced the results.

Bottom line? Fair questions remain. Do the ultra fine particles (UFPs) floating in the air around laser printers contain toner and if so, do they have carbon black or some other carcinogen in their composition (potentially rendering the concentration question moot)? Irregardless of the standards to which the laser printers conform (HP's as well as those of other manufacturers), are those standards up to par with the most recent findings when it comes to the health effects of UFPs and/or inert dust in certain concentrations?

One thing is for sure. As long as the jury is still out (and judging by HP's saying that more testing needs to be done, it is clearly out), I'm glad I don't have a laser printer in the house. Especially near my kids.

Topics: Health, Hewlett-Packard

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28 comments
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  • Get real, please

    There are more things in your house that can cause cancer than a laser printer. Your cell phone can cause tumors, the TV, the monitor on your PC, the list goes on and on. A laser printer is not to be feared.<br><br>

    This is an out of control fear story.
    k12IT
    • Preying on fear

      If you want someone to read your study or report, the easiest way to do it is to say "Reading this report will help stop you from getting cancer"

      Too many times a study or research is released with no real evidence or facts; just a way to "scare up" more money to continue researching the subject. Doesn't matter what the end result is or who this information harms along the way, as long as they have the money to continue the research, they have a job.
      John Zern
    • if you want to make your house a safer place, all things matter.

      Toner particles, glues, plastic fumes are toxic. Radiation of Tv's and other electronic
      devices is a different thing.
      Non-Zealand
      • It's no different

        Toner particles can not be grouped with glue and other fumes. Radiation is toxic!
        k12IT
        • eeuh?

          radiation are radio waves.. dangerous or not...
          toner particles is very fine dust, that we breath in.. like sigaret smoke, car exhausts..
          Non-Zealand
          • umm...

            The word is spelled "cigarette".
            tkirwan@...
          • Didn't say they weren't Radio Waves...

            I just said they are toxic. A lot more toxic than the particles you are breathing from toner. C2 particles have not been proven to be toxic or a cancer threat to humans, while radiation has. You can ask the folks (if you can find any) from Hiroshima and Chernobyl.
            k12IT
    • Second hand smoke was not to be feared

      at one time. Nor were the sun's rays. Nor coal dust. etc.

      Let's let more evidence be harvested before conclusions of safety or not are drawn.

      Either way, it appears HP printers put off more of some kind of emissions than do other printers.

      I would like to see the list of printers and the emissions each puts off.
      bjbrock
    • My personal favorite

      is the radiation released by the building materials in your home.

      Apocalypse always sells. Witness global warming. The biggest scam to hit since global cooling in the 1970s, and people are buying it hook, line and sinker.
      frgough
  • yes, but ending overly dramatic

    The story did a good job of emphasizing that the facts aren't all in, but I feel that the "I?m glad I don?t have a laser printer in the house. Especially near my kids." was a very cheesy way to end and otherwise good article.
    tmurph1810
    • Just being honest

      The jury is still out on cell phones too. We don't let our kids use our cell phones.

      I don't want to be the one that has to explain to my sick kid 10 or 20 years from now that there was enough information out there 10 or 20 years ago to suggest that whatever made him sick might possibly make people sick.

      So, you call it drama. I call it "being on the safe side for the sake of my kids."

      As a side note, how many things were suspected of causing harm that later were proved to do so. It's a long list. Forgive me for being conservative.

      db
      dberlind
      • I'm conservative, too.

        I don't use my cell phone that much... I sometimes use the Internet in my Pocket PC while in the road. But I'm still healthy, no matter what.
        Grayson Peddie
  • I feel fine...

    I've been a laser printer tech for nearly a decade. Our shop is primarily HP, and we can have several machines running in our depot at any given time. Not to mention the machines we use in our daily routine. I have no respiratory problems, I don't see any toner dust accumulating on our desks or benches. While I believe there needs to be more research done, I don't agree that you should immediately start pitching your home laser to the curb for fear of your children being exposed to "second hand toner inhalation". Please people, think about it - you have likely worked in an office or any other environment where laser printers are routinely used (most likely HP products)-- I'm sure you feel fine....

    So let's do those studies, but let's not lose sight of the fact that this stuff has been around us for a long, long time. The older machines were probably more at fault than the newer machines. We'll see....
    tkirwan@...
  • "irregardless" is not a word

    Sorry, one of my peeves:
    http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/irregardless
    RestonTechAlec
    • Mine Too!

      It makes me cringe!
      otaddy
    • Well,

      From your source:

      Main Entry: ir?re?gard?less
      Pronunciation: "ir-i-'g?rd-l&s
      Function: adverb
      Etymology: probably blend of irrespective and regardless
      nonstandard : REGARDLESS
      usage Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. [b]The most frequently repeated remark about it is that "there is no such word."[/b] There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.
      It seems that irregardless is actually a word, just an inefficient use of letters and time. There is no difference in the meaning.
      Update victim
  • Cure for the Laser Printer Problem

    Laser printer have been filling the landfills with trash for years. I do not find it surprising to learn that they have also been filling our lungs with potentially harmful particles.

    So what can you do about it? Easy - Make the move to Solid ink technology. Xerox Phaser Solid ink printers provide enormous advantages over laser in terms of speed, reliability, cost per print, maintenance cost, and they are are earth friendly!

    FreePrinters.com uses the Solid ink printers exclusively in it's Free Printer programs that also includes free on-site service. (http://www.FreePrinters.com)
    dwalthers
  • I would have felt better

    If instead the response had come from an engineer explaining what HP is doing to insure that their users don't end up with large amounts of particulates in their lungs that can't possibly be good for them.

    The very fact that the response came from a marketing executive indicates to me that HP is treating this as a public relations problem, rather than as a potential safety issue.
    John L. Ries
  • Yeah right HP we believe you.

    HP's response sounds like a kneejerk PR reaction without bothering to ascertain facts before shooting their mouths. After HPgate with their pretexting scandals, we really do believe everything you say, HP, we really do.
    kraterz
    • Because of course

      only industry has an agenda. Universities hunting for grant money and filled to the brim with marxists have no agenda at all. No, put "scientist" after your name and you become perfect, incorruptible and inviolate.

      Please.
      frgough