Laser printers may pose health risks

Office laser printers are as unhealthy as cigarettes due to the emission of toner particles, according to an Australian university's research

Office laser printers are as unhealthy as cigarettes, according to an Australian professor, who is now calling for regulations to limit printer emissions.

Office workers who are breathing easy since smoking was banned in public places in the UK can start worrying again, 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 which can get deep into the lungs and cause respiratory problems and cardiovascular trouble, according to Morawska's team, part of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, and specialists in atmospheric particles.

The team tested 62 laser printer models — all relatively new — and found that 17 of them were "high emitters" of toner particles. Despite using similar technology, office photocopiers do not emit particles, they found. 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 HP 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 result was a chance discovery, when a project investigating 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. The emissions were traced to printers, using an electronic sniffer, and were found to increase during the day as printers were left on standby, or in use.

Following the revelation, Professor Morawska's team tested their own printers and moved the unhealthy ones away from people. They are now calling for regulations on printer emissions. The study included Canon, HP LaserJet, Ricoh and Toshiba printers. The university had not released comprehensive results at the time of writing.

HP said it was currently assessing the study's findings. "Vigorous tests under standardised operating conditions are an integral part of HP's research and development and its strict quality-control procedures," it said in a statement. "As part of these quality controls, HP assesses its LaserJet printing systems, original HP print cartridges and papers for dust release and possible material emissions to ensure compliance with applicable international health and safety requirements."