If I have learned nothing else in all my years of experience, I have learned not to believe everything I read -- or at least to take what I read with a healthy grain of salt. Just yesterday, eSchool News reported School printers may pose health risk. This report is based upon a research study from Australia raising a health issue regarding airborne carbon particles produced by laser printers. Well, the problem is that this claim is twenty-five years too late! That's when I first learned that laser printer toner might just pose a health risk as a possible carcinogen.
In 1982, laser printers were expensive and not widely used. Almost no research was being done on second-hand smoke (the comparison the Australian researchers are using to make their point) and toner risks were tied to those handling toner, not those walking through the room where a laser printer was humming along. Nevertheless, in the ensuing twenty-five years, almost no research had been done on laser toner health issues until now. Should we keep our eyes open for further research on this subject? Of course we should. In the mean time, should we worry about the laser printers we have come to rely upon? Of course not!
Why do I say this? Because, in the last twenty-five years, not one piece of clinical evidence has come to light which has tied a lung cancer death (or any cancer death) to the use of laser printers. During the same period, there has been plenty of clinical evidence to tie second-hand smoke to lung cancer deaths -- and at least anecdotal evidence tying cell phone use to brain cancer. I'll bet no one reading this article would even consider dumping their cell phone.
In any event, this lack of evidence should be enough to convince us that these two possible health concerns (second-hand smoke and laser printers) differ in their significance by orders of magnitude.
So what should we do? Well, about the worst thing we can do is panic and move all of our laser printers to out-of-the-way locations where few people come in contact with them. Such locations tend to be poorly-ventilated and will only raise the concentration of airborne particles. If such health risk concerns turn out to be well-founded, we will have done our users a terrible disserivce.
A far more pragmatic approach would be for us to keep using our laser printers. We should however make our best efforts to keep these devices in well-ventilated locations. We can also keep up with the latest literature as similar studies are developed. Finally, as new toner/laser printer technologies emerge, we should include health-related issues in our evaluation criteria.
What do you think?