Are Laser Printers Really as Bad as Cigarettes? Depends on How Many Trees You Burn!

In a recent study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology, researchers have found that laser printers release harmful amounts of toner into the air during normal printing. What is concerning in this study is that almost all of us are sitting in an office just a stone’s throw away from a laser printer. While not all laser printers release harmful amounts of toner into the air, no report has shown what makes and models are worse than others. Now we just have an additional area of concern when buying a new laser printer.

I have been saying for a while that printers using plastic-based toner have reached their highest possible quality. In order to increase the image quality, the toner particles would have to become smaller. Making these particles smaller would result in more airborne particles and lead to a greater health risk. Little did I know that the current toner particle size was already affecting our health during normal use! My colleague John Carew and I have always warned our fellow coworkers that changing a toner cartridge can be potentially dangerous to one’s health, but at least this is an isolated event that can be controlled. I was surprised that HP was one of the culprits in this report, because it is the only company to use a liquid-supported toner (in its HP Indigo machines).

The irony of these findings is that the more you print and the closer you are to the printer, the more potential harm you are in. So let’s think back to the times when we were printing something big that would pose a threat to our health. I remember printing a 100-page proposal just last week on one of our laser printers. Luckily the printer is about 20 feet from my desk. But, by the time I reached the printer, it was only 20 pages into the print run. This means that I hovered over the carcinogen-spewing printer for the remaining 80 pages, unknowingly inhaling tiny black toner particles, with no buzz to boot!

I propose that the industry take one of three steps to resolve this threat. One, it could increase the size of the toner particles so that they cannot become airborne. Two, it could switch over to liquid-supported toner, like that used in the HP Indigo. Three, the industry could infuse nicotine into the toner, so at least we would be getting some bang for our buck. (Actually, this way we wouldn’t have to go outside to catch a smoke! Thinking more about this, this could increase worker productivity. People would work harder to get that 100-page report in print in order to catch their fix.)

In all seriousness, this report brings to light an issue that has long been known by the manufacturers. We can only hope that this gains enough traction to prompt regulation of the amount of harmful toner particles that are released from the unit during normal operation. This could mark a shift to more inkjet-driven or liquid-supported machines, which for the most part are of higher quality anyway!

So, how far away can you get from your office laser printer? Did you already go out and buy a really long USB or Ethernet cable to extend your life?

Author: John Mehl

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