Study reveals potentially dangerous side effects of laser printing

A recent study funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health revealed a potential health hazard from a laser printer's emissions. While employees should not change their work habits, new technology has led researchers to call for printers to be placed in rooms or areas that are well-ventilated.

Laser printing is a step above the personal printing used by many consumers and small businesses. As the years have gone by since laser printing was first introduced in the 1970s, the price of the physical machines has drastically declined in price.

What is the study?
While the study was funded by the NIOSH, it was carried out by researchers at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology.

Researchers stressed that this study is not meant to scare businesses or the public because they use laser printers. Instead, the study is meant to look into recent trends of manufacturers, including nanotechnologies in their machines. Those at Harvard involved in this research are hoping this study will educate nanotechnology companies and printer manufacturers about the benefits and risks in this sector.

According to the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there is a growing concern about the safety of nanotechnology, which is the study and application of small things, per National Nanotechnology Initiative.

"With so many products going nano, safety assessments are needed to safeguard public health," said Philip Demokritou, associate professor of aerosol physics and the director for the Center of Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology. "There is a lack of data on the potential release of these nanomaterials into the air during consumer use, and their possible environmental health hazards."

Laser printerLaser printers may emit dangerous particles.

What is laser printing?
Laser printing, developed in the 1970s by Xerox Corporation, is a digital printing process. Unlike regular printers, laser printers produce high-quality text, images and photographs.

This method is utilized by many businesses and other professional industries because of the printing speeds and the quality of printouts. Businesses enjoy using laser printers as certain materials, such as brochures and flyers, are produced in a nicer fashion.

Laser printers have also become more popular as prices for the technology decreased in prior years. When the machines were first introduced, it was not uncommon for these printers to cost upwards of $3,000. Now, companies can walk into popular office supply stores and find a high-quality laser printer for under $100.

Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve their products, and the incorporation of nanotechnology is one way to do just that. Essentially, nanomaterials are used in an effort to enhance printing quality.

Because of the laser printer's widespread usage, Harvard researchers likely deemed it worthy to study potential side effects of constantly being near the machinery.

Health risks and findings
Nanotechnology is small – extremely small, in fact. The National Nanotechnology Institute stated it's difficult to imagine how small one nano is, but as a comparison, one nanometer is one-billionth of one meter.

As a result, these extremely small particles are able to potentially cause cardiovascular or respiratory damage to an individual when he or she is near a laser printer. Researchers were careful to test all printers because some manufacturers did not list nanoparticles as a product.

If it was determined nanoparticles were present, the printers were then put through an emissions test. Tests subsequently revealed some laser printers released particles that were on levels with polluted highways.

"Exposure to these nanoparticles led to negative responses at the biological level."

Exposure to these nanoparticles, researchers found, led to negative responses at the biological level. But this doesn't mean laser printers should be thrown away, Demokritou said. Instead, whenever new materials and chemicals are put on the market, it's important to consider the potential ramifications three decades or so from now.

"This study could start the conversation with regulators on establishing safety guidelines for nano-enabled products," Sandra Pirela, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Environmental Health, told the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Harvard researchers did have a few important recommendations with regards to using laser printers. They stated workers should leave the room during large print jobs and that laser printers ought to be placed in well-ventilated areas.

A need for ventilation
Businesses and other companies utilizing laser printers should ensure ventilation systems are functioning and up to date. While laser printers should not be avoided, Harvard researchers have determined there is at least a risk because of the technology involved.

Companies can contact Air Impurities Removal Systems to find the types of air filtration systems needed to remove potentially dangerous particles emitted from laser printers.