How to Reduce the Health Risks of Laser Printers

					How to Reduce the Health Risks of Laser Printers


Anyone who has used a laser printer is aware of the very distinctive smell. And, if we can
smell it, particles of toner are going into our airways. Yet, we smell many things, most of
which are benign. So is there any reason to be concerned about inhaling minute quantities
of toner? The answer is yes.

The reason is not that we know toner is a health hazard, but that we don’t know that it
isn’t. In a way, it’s like the debate over the safety of mobile phones: much of the
evidence is anecdotal. Laser printers have not been around long enough for research
findings to be conclusive about their health implications.
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In printers, the toner is extracted from the cartridge and fused to the paper by heat. No
toner is supposed to escape into the air. Though that’s the intention, that’s not what
happens. An Australian study carried out by Queensland University of Technology
determined that many laser printers from well-known manufacturers were significant
“emitters of particulates.” This apparently means that during the printing process a lot of
toner escapes into the air.

This raises two crucial questions: how much escapes and how harmful is it? The second
question is more important since, if toner is not dangerous, the first question is much less
significant. Most toner is made from carbon powder, called black carbon, which is mixed
with a polymer. Individually or in combination, neither of these is considered a hazardous
substance. The cause for concern is more the size of the toner powder particles. The
particles are so small that when inhaled they can reach the deepest and narrowest
passageways of the lungs. Even to a non-scientist, that sounds ominous. Yet, we inhale
many substances deeply. Perfume is one example. The difference between substances
like perfume and toner is that perfume breaks down in our system and quickly disappears.
Prolonged exposure to toner can cause a slow build-up of particles in our lungs.

The consequences of such exposure are disputed. As you’d expect, the major printer
manufacturers, while advising a “sensible” approach, deny the existence of any health
risk. A number of independent studies disagree. The 2007 Australian research cited above
is one, but a 2008 German study is more worrying. In October of that year, the newspaper
Berliner Morgenpost reported that research carried out at the University of Rostock in
Northern Germany claimed that exposure to toner could lead to cancer. The research goes
so far as to compare the health risk with that of asbestos. Though it may exist, it’s hard to
unearth much other research that backs-up the Rostock claims.
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With so many conflicting opinions, it’s wise to err on the side of caution and adopt
sensible precautions when dealing with toner. Here are five easy to implement tips:

1.     Keep the room where the printer is operating well ventilated.
2.      If it’s a small room, don’t stay there longer than necessary when printing is in
     progress.

3.      Don’t stand next to the printer while it’s operating.

4.      Wear a mask and thin gloves when handling toner or toner cartridges.

5.      Don’t refill cartridges; this is a job best left to experts.


With any luck, toner will never be shown to be a serious health hazard. Better still, it
might even prove to be completely safe. Until that day, it’s wise to treat it with the
respect any unproven high-tech substance deserves. Remember, they still can’t say with
100% certainty that cigarettes smoking causes cancer.

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DOCUMENT INFO
Description: Anyone who has used a laser printer is aware of the very distinctive smell. And, if we can smell it, particles of toner are going into our airways. Yet, we smell many things, most of which are benign. So is there any reason to be concerned about inhaling minute quantities of toner? The answer is yes.