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Printer IT Science

Office Printers May Pose Health Risks 227

drewmoney writes "The BBC reports on new findings which may have implications for the way offices are laid out. According to an Australian study, around a third of modern printer models release 'potentially dangerous levels of toner into the air' as they are completing a job. 'Almost one-third were found to emit ultra-tiny particles of toner-like material, so small that they can infiltrate the lungs and cause a range of health problems from respiratory irritation to more chronic illnesses. Conducted in an open-plan office, the test revealed that particle levels increased five-fold during working hours, a rise blamed on printer use. '"
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Office Printers May Pose Health Risks

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  • by conspirator57 ( 1123519 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @09:36AM (#20056509)
    They release both paper dust and toner dust. I've known people who've gotten several sinus infections over their tenure near large print/shred stations (several B/W and color printers, fax, fine grain shredders.)

    Get a portable HEPA filter and droop it in the vicinity of your printers and your problems (if you have any) will get measurably better.
  • Re:Ozone and Toner (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ravenscall ( 12240 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @09:51AM (#20056733)
    At least here in the US part of the issue is the users as well. I cannot count the number of times a printer was down and I had users grumbling that they had to walk 20 yards as opposed to 5 to get thier printouts. It is not as simple as employee morale being inversely related to distance from printers, but the way they complain you would think it is.

    Probably says something about why we have an obesity epidemic to boot.
  • solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @10:01AM (#20056863) Homepage Journal
    So should we all move towards solid ink []. Less consumables, no getting dirty refilling toner cartridges. No toner cartridges to throw away, although there is one major consumable every 7-10K pages. I guess if a toner is refilled at least three times it is about the same.
  • What about walking? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gazzonyx ( 982402 ) <scott DOT lovenberg AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @10:11AM (#20056989)

    Conducted in an open-plan office, the test revealed that particle levels increased five-fold during working hours, a rise blamed on printer use.
    I'm just throwing out the idea that many people walking around on the carpet during office hours may be kicking up toner dust that has settled in the carpet. You'd be amazed how much crap is kicked up from a carpet with just a few people walking on it. For those of us with wood floors, how long after you mop or clean the floor until you see dust starting to collect? For me, it's a week or so. Imagine all that being churned by people walking on it all day.
  • by slughead ( 592713 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @11:23AM (#20057987) Homepage Journal
    They release both paper dust and toner dust. I've known people who've gotten several sinus infections over their tenure near large print/shred stations (several B/W and color printers, fax, fine grain shredders.)

    That's one explanation. The BBC also says that "particle levels rise" during work hours... note that it doesn't specify the type of particles... well here are some other explanations:

    1. Perfumes worn by employees
    2. Dead skin (which is what 'dust' usually is)
    3. Particulates stirred up by people walking around
    4. Higher speed air due to cooling/heating systems which release and stir up dust

    Does this remind anyone of "WiFi in schools causes cancer! Cell towers cause even more!" This was yet another BBC scare-story.

    I can't believe anyone even reads the BBC's science and technology articles, especially after that.
  • by PhloppyPhallus ( 250291 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @11:51AM (#20058435)
    I used to work in the research labs of a major printer/copier manufacturer. We did extensive testing of chemical emissions for all laser/toner based products, from desk top models to huge production printers. Tests were done in a variety of formats, but in general the machine was placed in a well sealed room and allowed to operate for hours. Usually there would be a specified air change rate, say the volume of the room every six hours, but sometime the concentration was allowed to build in a room with no air change. Every few minutes throughout the test an air sample was collected from a special chamber on the test room wall. The air sample would be run through optical, chemical and mass spectrometry testing to determine the chemical composition - we looked specifically for about 20 different chemicals which were known to be emitted in quantity, were regulated, or were likely to be regulated because they posed a known health risk. All laser printers emit airborne chemicals - this is known and it is tested to make sure the chemical emission rates and the air concentrations in even the stuffiest of closets are well below any known safety limits. This isn't a new approach, either - I was once tasked with surveying the results of all air quality tests done on currently-in-use printers made by the company, and testing was performed up-to-standard for all machines developed since the mid-80s. Still, that said, you can always work to reduce the concentration of chemicals in the air by ensuring that you place you office copier in a well ventilated and open room. Air change rate and room size are the primary factors which determine the steady-state concentration of airborne chemicals.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @12:19PM (#20058895)
    Dad developed IBM's toner drum in the '60s (an organic photoconductor vs Xerox's selenium). Toner has to be a fine enough particle to migrate readily by electrostatic forces, it's how the toner moves to the photoconductor drum and gets ironed onto the page. You can _bank_ on toner having a high charge potential, and that means it will stick like glue to any grounded your lungs. Those nifty ozone scrubbers are very effective with toner tho, for the same reasons.
  • by davidsyes ( 765062 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @03:42PM (#20061955) Homepage Journal
    In the USN, I serviced our comm center's shredder (shredding to something like 1/32 of an inch, and reversing the unit would mean hours of unjamming effort), the 4 or so different teletypes in Radio and CIC, and the liquid and dry toner copiers on my own ship, but sometimes on the 2 or 3 ships in my DesRon (Destroyer Squadron) to which my command loaned me for days or up to 14 days.

    In 1986, between teletype courses, I learned to service the Savin 772S (or 722S?) liquid toner copier, the shipboard or marinized version of the famous copier. It had a deeper toner collection trough than shore-based units. Later that same year, I learned to service and repair the dry toner units, which had to have special seals to keep the magnetic toner from dispersing into the radio shack (comm center) equipment. (Can you imagine after a few months of exposure not to the lungs but to the URT-23's, WSC-3's, UYK-47, LTP-7', etc... what would happen? The equipment would fail or short out, despite their own filtration, in some cases.)

    After discharging, I for one year used to service Savin liquid toner copiers back in 1988. (I'm not worried about lawsuits as they ARE on my resume, and I have no particular or personal problems with any PEOPLE I worked with there.) I had to dispose of the liquid toner AND the dispersant. Sometimes we "left" it in the customers' waste baskets if we were quick enough. Other times, savvy customers demanded WE dispose of it elsewhere.

    (Oh, and I would log some 25 to 100 miles per day on my car, going as far as Soquel, Pescadero, San Franciso, sometimes but rarely the East Bay, but mostly Los Gatos, and the Peninsula and downtown SJ... so imagine the GASes my former 1988 2-door hatchback Honda Accord might have been putting out).

    Now to put this in perspective, servicing TWO to 6 copiers a day, I'd have to change toner or add dispersant or drain off some to do one or both of those. Sometimes I dumped it in my dad's trash can or at the customers', or at their premises. I would be non-surprised if other companies' employees did the same and even dumped it down the drains.

    Now, of course the company (or, should I say, our managers, supervisors, and experienced co-workers) told us to use Playtex rubber gloves, but after a while if the springs and tools didn't RIP or TEAR our gloves, the dispersant (alcohol, basically some and petroleum distillate) would dissolve or weaken the gloves, assuring quicker tearing by spring and tool.

    I used to hang out at a couple of clubs into the we hours when smoking in bars/clubs/indoors in CA was still legal. Between the cigarette smoke and the toner and dispersant and after a year of this, my health and concentration were being affected, dinging my morale, leading to problems that eventually led to a mutual separation of me from the company. After a few weeks of separation, my health quality shot up markedly and I was my normal self again. How GREAT it felt to not have black toner circumscribing and getting under my nails M-F, clean by Sun AM and dirty again by Mon AM, and how good it felt not having liquid dispersant (petroleum distillate) drying my skin, penetrating my organs, and not having issues any more.

    Later, as a contractor, an agency sent me to a BioPharm in Mountain View. They had a copy room maybe 10' x 15', noisy as hell and definitely containing more than nose-detectable amounts of toner and ionized air. I don't recall a partuclates filtration system, but there was a suction ventilation duct.

    So, it is MORE than an office issue, it is also likely still a particulates issue for the outside, too, unless special vacuum units exist on-site.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan