Do printers pose health problems?
Study: They can emit particles in amounts similar to secondhand smoke
MILWAUKEE - Should laser printers
come with a surgeon general's warning?
An Australian research team has
found that some printers give off invisible particles as they operate, with the
worst culprit emitting concentrations similar to those of secondhand tobacco
But that doesn't mean you need a
mask every time you pass your printer.
The conclusions are based on a
small subset of data, the researchers acknowledge, and raise many more questions
than answers. Independent experts and a printer manufacturer say it would be
premature to issue any warnings until researchers know exactly what chemicals
make up the ultrafine particles. Some of the types of particles identified by
the researchers can also be generated from simple activities such as burning a
candle or making toast.
Even so, one of the researchers
behind the study, physicist Lidia Morawska of Queensland University of
Technology in Brisbane, Australia, said it wouldn't hurt to make sure printers
are kept in open areas at a distance from users.
"This information should mainly
guide manufacturers into designing printers that are low emitters," Morawska
said. "In the meantime, if you can, put the printer in a separate
It's not clear that these
ultrafine emissions are dangerous, according to Robert Hamers, the chairman of
the chemistry department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Each particle, up to 1,000 times
smaller than a dust particle, is small enough that it can get drawn deeply into
the lung's tiny sacs, Hamers said. But what it does once it gets there depends
on its chemical composition.
For example, cigarette smoke is
dangerous not because it contains tiny particles but because those particles
include cyanide and carbon monoxide.
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