Office Printers Spew As Many Particles As Smoldering Cigarettes

Everyone hates the office printer, including scientists who blame the printers for emitting dangerous amounts of ultra-fine particles. Scientists from Queensland University examined printers from Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Ricoh and Toshiba. Their findings don’t condemn any one brand: the HP LaserJet 4050 emitted no particles, while the the HP LaserJet 1320 and 4250 raised the particle count of the surrounding air tenfold. From the LA Times:

Morawska did not originally set out to study printers. She was invited by the Queensland Department of Public Works to measure air quality inside a six-floor office building near a busy road.

The scientists quickly noticed that during the workday, particle levels were much higher indoors than out. Indoor particle levels reached as high as 625,986 particles per square inch, compared with 178,619 particles per square inch outside the building.

Printers were clearly the culprit: Copy machines and a break room microwave were not among the main particle sources.

The researchers then analyzed air quality near each printer after it had printed one page, and used this data to categorize printers by the amount of particles released. Particle levels rose as soon as the printer started.

Inhaling particles can cause breathing problems and cancer. Finally, proof that office work is [potentially] hazardous to your health.

That Printer At The Office May Be Ruining Your Health [LA Times]
Particle Emission Characteristics of Office Printers [Environmental Science and Technology]
(Photo: thraxil)

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  1. Cowboys_fan says:

    Well that’s something I never expected to read. Good thing I don’t do much printing.

  2. DontKnowthe411 says:

    Wow, and I thought coal mining was dangerous. Now I can go back to smoking a pack a day around my niece knowing that I am causing no more harm to her than the printer in the next room. Thanks!

  3. theWolf says:

    Now Congress will want to tax the living crap out of printers.

  4. jamesdenver says:

    I don’t believe this. Period.

  5. caitlinagogo says:

    I share an office with the community printer. A small poorly ventilated office, with an old clunky laser printer. I thought we might have a sick building but maybe it’s just my office.
    I went through all the trouble of quitting smoking and it’s a printer that’s going to do me in. CRAPTASTIC!

  6. andrewsmash says:

    Like anyone who works in a cube-farm didn’t know their bosses were trying to kill them. Why do you think exec’s are the only ones with doors (and windows that may open?)

  7. DeeJayQueue says:

    Particles of what? Particles of the same stuff we breathe every day anyway? Ten times nothing is still nothing.

    I said this in the Lifehacker post about the same thing:
    The Ozone that laser printers and copiers make is much more hazardous than any particle emissions they make. If they were as dangerous as these eggheads say they are, the whole area around the printer would be covered in toner in a couple days, and that’s not the case is it?

  8. North of 49 says:

    there’s an office building in the city here that has tons of printers, specifically the ones tested, and the staff are forever complaining about air quality. Some of them are now seriously questioning their safety.

  9. royal72 says:

    time to start smoking laser printers!

  10. Aladdyn says:

    @ JamesDenver

    “I don’t believe it. Period.”

    What is it that you don’t believe? That scientists can measure particles? That they can measure particles and they were lying? Or that particles in the air can’t harm people.

    Any thing that you breathe into your lungs that is unable to be exhaled or easily broken down by your body will harm your lungs permanently. There is nothing special about coal dust that gives people black lung disease. Its the same thing that happens from inhaling say rock dust or even asbestos (although there is a rare type of cancer in the lining of you lungs that asbestos does cause)if your breathing in more particles, then your scarring up your lungs faster.

  11. FrankTheTank says:

    “Office Printers Spew As Many Particles As Smoldering Cigarettes”

    You mean not a whole lot…
    A smoldering cigarette is not a sufficient source of second hand smoke. (the studies that show that secondhand smoke leads to cancer as based on environments where smoke is pervasic)

  12. rodeobob says:

    This is a case of pure FUD and bad science. It’s scare reporting at it’s worst.

    FTA:

    The study did not consider variables such as printer age or cartridge type, leading to variations even among printers of the same model.

    So it’s unclear whether older printers emit particles, or dirty printers. It’s not clear whether the source is the printer itself, the cartrige type or manufacturer, or another factor. This is bad science, folks.

    The study primarily considered particles less than a micrometer in size, but the authors noted that even their non-emitters might be releasing larger particles, which are also potentially hazardous to human health.

    And here’s the FUD. The ‘non-emitting’ printers might be releasing larger particles, which are potentially hazardous to human health.

    So something involved in some printers, will sometimes release some amounts of something that could potentially be harmful to your health. But these scientists can’t determine the source, cause, frequency, or underlying drivers for this activity.

    Disclaimer: I am an employee for Xerox, which makes printers. I am employed in Finance, not P&R, and own no stock. My statements are of my own opinion, and not reflective of the company’s position or values. This is just bad science and bad journalism, an opinion I came to independent of my employment.

  13. JohnMc says:

    To the author of this piece — don’t be so alarmist.

    First I would not put much stock in the report. It’s probably a couple of scientists looking for some grant money. As to the particulate levels. Got a test you and them. Go into the bathroom and roll off say 20 sheets of the stuff. You have just released into the air twice the level being suggested in this article from paper particulates coming off the roll.

    Oh, now you are going to take up Sharon Crowe’s ‘1 sheet’ suggestion? Be gone!

  14. camas22 says:

    there was a way better summary article linked on digg less than a week ago. I’m too lazy to find it but basically its not as senstational as the la times, another example of how everything in la sucks, but its not as complicated as the scientific review.

  15. WebUrbanist says:

    Printers are part of a large subset of commonly-used household or business items and appliances that produce a surprisingly negative effect on those around them. Industrial cleaning solutions used by janitorial staff, for example, can have negative impacts on both those who occupy the building and those who clean it.

  16. jnkdaniel says:

    copy machines are the worst. this article is quite interesting, because I had always noticed my sneezing around the machine.

  17. Dacker says:

    Years ago, I worked for a photocopier manufacturer, spending part of the time in a converted grocery store which housed the “Electrophotographic Technology Division”.

    This group was commonly known as “ETD”. The acronym had another meaning for many employees, “Eat Toner & Die”!

    The folks in Health & Safety assured us that any particles we inhaled would be expelled because they were too large to remain in your lungs. No one quite believed that, but we had no real choice. Now it looks like there may be an issue; are we looking at High Tech Black Lung?

  18. Rusted says:

    Need three sources or more for “proof”. This did not cut it. Need we to take another step backward like the 1.6 gallon flushers that don’t flush….well?

  19. I always knew that my Brother laser printer was going to kill me. Those things just look mean.

  20. jerseyjokeboy says:

    PC Load Letter? WTF does that mean?

    We gonna die!

  21. Roundonbothends says:

    Whoopee! We’re all gonna die!

  22. Saboth says:

    @Cowboys_fan:
    Great…I work for a mailing company that prints stuff all day long. Even in our office we have 10 desktop printers that probably print 200-500 sheets per day apiece.