Some of the laser printers used in classrooms, dorms, and school administrative offices could pose serious health risks as a result of the harmful emission of toner particles, according to a study by Australian researchers.

According to the study, released Aug. 1 by the Queensland Department of Public Works and first published by the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal, “various types of printers … [that] have become standard indoor electronic equipment … are a potential source of indoor pollutants.” In one case, researchers reportedly found that a printer can expel as much particle matter as a cigarette smoker inhales.

Researcher Lidia Morawska of the Queensland University of Technology and her colleagues monitored particle concentrations in large, open-plan offices for more than 48 hours, measured particle concentration levels in the vicinity of all the printers in a multi-level office building, and measured emission rates from different printers using an experimental chamber.

Print jobs ranged from five to 100 pages, and measurements were taken immediately after the print job started and continued for the duration of the job.

Various models from Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Ricoh, and Toshiba were tested. The printers then were divided into four categories: non-emitters, low emitters, medium emitters, and high emitters.

Researchers found that, of the 62 printers they tested, 60 percent did not emit particles–but another 27 percent emitted high levels of particles. That means 17 of the 62 printers were high particle emitters.

Chamber measurements confirmed that particle emissions “start immediately after the printer starts operating,” the study says.

The emissions pose “a significant health threat because of the particles’ small size, which makes them easy to inhale and easily lodged in the passageways of the lungs,” Morawska told PC World. She also said the effects can “range from simple irritation to much more serious illnesses, including cardiovascular problems or cancer.”

Many HP LaserJet models were non-emitters, according to the report, but some of the models the company markets to schools were high emitters, including the HP Color LaserJet 4650dn and HP Color LaserJet 5550dtn. Readers can see a full list of the printers tested here: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/esthag/asap/html/es063049z.html.

Education leaders who spoke with eSchool News said they planned to reevaluate their choice of printers in light of the study’s results.

“We will look at what we have and what is on the list to determine if any need replacing. We will also adjust our future purchasing according to the recommendations where possible,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in California.

Liebman, whose schools use mostly HP inkjets in classrooms and HP laser printers in administrative offices, added: “[A] healthy working and classroom environment is always a concern, and we need to consider these findings and take reasonable action to ensure the health of our children and adults who come to our schools and offices.”

As of press time, only three of the four printer companies in question–HP, Ricoh, and Toshiba–had responded to an eSchool News reporter¹s queries.Toshiba declined to comment, while Ricoh said it was still reviewing the study and wasn¹t prepared to comment at this time. Meanwhile, HP had this to say:

“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.”

Queensland researchers say they intend to follow up with more studies that analyze the chemistry of the particles. They conclude their study by noting that “many factors, such as printer model, printer age, cartridge model, and cartridge age, may affect the particle emissions process–and all of these factors require further study.”

However, they say, “the results imply that particle concentration levels in an office [or classroom] can be reduced by a proper choice of printers.”

Links:

Queensland study: Particle Emission Characteristics of Office Printers
http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/esthag/asap/html/es063049z.html

Hewlett-Packard Co.
http://www.hp.com

Toshiba America Inc.
http://www.toshiba.com/tai

Canon Inc.
http://www.canon.com

Ricoh Co. Ltd.
http://www.ricoh.com