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Categories Health Risk & Safety

Do you be seated next to an office laser beam printer that’s in heavy use? Perhaps you have ever before wondered whether it could be doing you harm?

Well, this field is still in its infancy, but researchers have demonstrated that laser printing creates a shower of tiny particles, which stay in the air and may be inhaled deep into our lungs.

Whether these particles are harmful is the subject of ongoing exploration - however, generally there is evidence that similar-sized particles from different sources may destruction our hearts and lungs.

A global expert in this area, Professor Lidia Morawska, of the International Laboratory for QUALITY OF AIR and Health at Queensland University of Technology, started the ball rolling with a 2007 study demonstrating office laser printers emitted significant degrees of ultrafine particles.

No, she wouldn’t sit up coming to a busy office laser printer.

“We found that a number of the printers inside our office were weighty emitters so we evacuated them in to the corridor, where there is very good ventilation,” she says.

Tiny particles

As the name implies ultrafine particles, are very tiny - significantly less than 0.1 micrometres in diameter. To photo that, mentally divide a millimetre into 10,000 parts, and that provides you a concept of the size.

Other resources of ultrafine particles include vehicle exhausts, burning wood and candles, and cooking.

Since their initial study in 2007, Morawska and her team have discovered more about how laser beam printers emit these contaminants.

When the printer toner and paper pass above the hot printer roller, chemicals - known as volatile organic and natural compounds - are released into the air.

“These substances then react with ozone found in the weather and condense to create ultrafine particles”, says Morawska.

“The temperature of the printer is the key thing,” she explains.

“The hotter the temperature the more contaminants are produced.”

Their investigations also have shown:

– There is tremendous variability around printers with most creating 1000 times more particles than others.
– Different models created by the same supplier can produce completely different levels of particles.
– Two machines of the same model type may also differ within their emissions - if you have recently done much more printing, it’s more likely to create more particles.
Should we worry?
– A Federal Government-commissioned research looking at ultrafine particles from combustion and car or truck exhausts found data that high degrees of these particles can bring on asthma attacks in persons with the condition and worsen heart disease.

However, the large-scale research that are really had a need to answer these problems about safety have certainly not been done. Due to this, the World Health Organisation has not issued any rules on safe degrees of ultrafine particles.

Also, the ultrafine particles from laser printers happen to be chemically not the same as the ones investigated in the federal government study, so they might not exactly possess the same results on our bodies.

Safe Do the job Australia has commissioned two projects to especially examine potential health threats from laser beam printer emissions. The reports are expected to be available on the organisation’s website in arriving months.

So with no clear guidance how to handle this probable risk from laser beam printers, what - if anything - should we be doing?

Well, Morawska suggests erring on the side of caution, and provides these tips to minimise exposure to the ultrafine particles connected with laser printers:

– Make sure any office is well-ventilated with oxygen from outside
– If possible, locate heavily-utilized printers in well-ventilated areas, from people
– Avoid position over the printer since it prints
– In case you are sitting up coming to a heavily-utilized printer, consider requesting you or the printer to move
– People who have asthma or heart disease would be best advised never to sit near busy printers

Morawska has compiled a good set of printers her team has tested. While not exhaustive, the workforce has tested many designs, and occasionally tested different printers of the same model. You will find this list on her behalf website.

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