Office equipment is meant to lighten the load of the average worker, but may have an unintended consequence: contaminated air. Since the early-2000s, numerous studies have been done on indoor air quality as it concerns sicknesses that affect office workers.
The EPA has defined office worker illness this way:
The term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone or may be widespread throughout the building, In contrast, the term “building-related illness” (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants. (1)
In so far as a health condition can be labeled, “Building-Related Illness” is what the EPA refers to when describing the otherwise unexplained symptoms from which office workers suffer. Based on the research results, copiers and printers are largely at fault.
Office Equipment Negatively Affects Indoor Air Quality
Xerox introduced the first desk-sized photocopier in 1959. At nearly 650 pounds, it was a monster of a machine. And it revolutionized how businesses operated. Today’s copying process, xerography, is largely the same method as the one debuted by Xerox. Image reproduction is a dry process, one that uses electrostatic charges on a light-sensitive photoreceptor to attract, then transfer, toner particles (which are in powder form) onto paper in the image of the original subject. Heat and pressure are then used to fuse the toner onto the paper. Laser printing works in a similar fashion.
The specific point at which the printing and copying process causes problems is when toner fuses to paper. When toner is heated, fumes, and particulates from chemicals such as styrene and benzene derivatives are released into the air. While the concentration levels released are generally low, they are dangerous to the average office worker due to exposure over the long term – day after day, and year after year of breathing in chemical dust and fumes can wreak havoc on human health. (3)
Overexposure to Volatile Organic Compounds
Whether one works in a large-scale copy center or at a desk that is near a copy machine or printer that serves five people, a bevy of pollutants is emitted into the air each time the machines are used. Toner and paper particles, toxic gases such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone are launched into a worker’s breathing space. (2) Toxicity studies have shown that the particulates that are inhaled have poor solubility and accumulate in the lungs. What follows can be a number of health complaints: headache, fatigue, breathlessness, allergic reactions, and respiratory problems – some quite severe. (3)
While most printers and copiers emit toxins and particulates at levels that are at or under recommended exposure levels, contact over a prolonged period of time can inflict long-term health effects.
What to Do About It
These studies don’t suggest that people stop using copiers or printers, as that would be vastly impractical advice. Office equipment like copying and printing machines are both essential in running a business. Minimizing exposure to equipment emissions is the only means of protecting the health of employees (4) and can be done easily, and cost-effectively:
- Employee workspaces should be located in areas that are well ventilated
- Air should recirculate with fresh air blended with the indoor source
- Equipment, when possible, should be located away from employee workspaces (5)
- In cases where emissions and/or worker health has already been compromised, the use of air cleaning systems should be employed
At AIR Systems Inc., we serve our customers who work in office environments by providing indoor air quality management solutions. Our air impurity removal systems remove air impurities for the health and peace of mind of both employee and business owner.