Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Laser Printer / Photocopier Health Risks

Reference #1

Photocopiers and laser printers both produce ozone which, if present in high enough concentrations, can cause health problems such as eye, nose and throat irritation, dermatitis, headaches, premature ageing and possible reproductive and cancer hazards. People suffering from respiratory ailments are particularly sensitive to the effects of ozone.

Problems are likely to arise if the machines are:

-badly positioned: the symptoms are likely to be felt by people working in cramped, overcrowded conditions;
-poorly maintained: internal filters, which break down the ozone, clog up over time, particularly in poorly ventilated offices. They should be changed periodically;
-used frequently or for lengthy runs.

Proper siting of machines, ventilation and maintenance are therefore essential.

Ozone is a sweet-smelling and highly toxic gas. If you can smell ozone the level is too high. There are big variations in the amount produced by different machines and safety representatives should be consulted over the purchase of new models.

Other chemicals associated with photocopiers are:

-selenium and cadmium sulphide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide;
-carbon black contained in toners is a nuisance dust which contains carcinogens.
-Toners must be handled with care and gloves worn. German consumer organisation tests have found that toners often release harmful substances.

Noise and ultraviolet light emitted during the copying process are also hazards associated with copiers.

-Where possible, no-one should work in the same room as a photocopier;
-if unavoidable, machines should be sited at least three metres away from workers.
-Where possible, laser printers should not be sited on desktops or workstations beside workers.

Reference #2

Laser Printers and the Problems they cause in the Indoor Environment
Health effects associated with laser printers
Pollutants emitted by laser printers
Minimizing the health effects from laser printers

Hazards associated with laser printers

Operating equipment such as computers, laser printers, and photocopiers has been associated with sick building syndrome and health effects due to the release of chemical gases and particles. These emissions can result from the inks and toners, papers, carbonless paper, coatings on transparencies, glue on adhesive labels, the mechanical print process, plastic construction materials, circuit boards, and residual cleaning chemicals. Many of these chemicals will decrease with usage of the product such as computers. Others are the result of the mechanical operation and will always be there when the machine is operating. Laser printers in particular have been associated with1,2:


Mucous membrane irritation

Dryness of the throat, eyes and nose

Laser printers can emit:

VOCs: Laser printers and photocopiers have been shown to emit VOCs such as aldehydes, styrene, xylenes, ethylbenzene and hydrocarbons, many resulting from the inks and toners. Computers, in contrast, often release chemicals with strong odors such as phenol and plasticizers.

Particulates: Particulates are released by an operating machine. They may result from paper debris, toners, and inks. Many of these particles are in the respirable size and some agencies are concerned about the presence of carbon black.

Ozone: Laser printers create ozone through their "corona wires" that apply a charge to the paper so the ink will cling to it. However, newer models use a different system to reduce the amount of ozone produced by the printer. Concentrations of ozone in a room where laser printers are being used can exceed the currently regulated standard for ozone in the outdoor air. Ozone is a strong lung irritant. Many machines have filters to extract the ozone emissions.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is commonly emitted. It may be associated with papers and coatings on papers or as a constituent of inks and toners.

Do the following to minimize health effects from laser printers:

Choose low-emission machines: Buy printers that can do the print job while contributing minimal emissions to the air. These printers have been designed to emit little chemical and particle emissions while operating. For more information, see

Ozone filters: Make sure that the laser printer has an ozone filter. Some of the newer models come with them. Ozone from laser printers is removed by activated charcoal filters that are replaced after a certain number of printed pages. These filters can reduce the average ozone levels from 430 µg/min to 100 µg/min.3 The filters need to be replaced according to the manufacturers instructions.

Ventilation: Large numbers of printers and photocopiers should be put together and isolated in a separate area with their own ventilation system that is exhausted to the outside. This area must have a lot of outdoor air and the air should not be recirculated throughout the rest of the building. Machines should not be located near return air ducts and should be turned off when not in use for any length of time. New machines need to be operated as much as possible with good ventilation during the first two weeks of purchase. Many of the new chemicals and odors will emit during this period, but they will decrease with time. An initial "burn in" with good ventilation will help reduce the odors and occupant irritation.

Selection of media: Select papers that do not have formaldehyde treatments and coatings. Avoid the use of carbonless paper, if possible, unless it is known to be free of chemical emissions while being used. Avoid printing of labels with adhesive. If required, ensure that good ventilation is supplied. Make sure that paper is compatible and recommended by the manufacturer of the equipment.



Wolkoff P, Wilkins CK, Clausen PA, Larsen K. Comparison of volatile organic compounds from processed paper and toners from office copiers and printers. Indoor Air 1993; 3:113-123.

Skoner DP, Hodgson MD, Doyle WJ. Laser printer rhinitis. NE J Med. 1990; 322(18):1323.

Hetes R, Moore M, Northelm C. Office equipment: Design, indoor air emissions, and pollution prevention opportunities. US EPA Project Summary, EPA/600/SR-95/045; Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. 1995.


Bird said...

I am so gonna die...

Anonymous said...

I have suffered a devastating respiratory condition due to the vapours released by a photocopier and a laser printer in my job. It was diagnosed as bronchial hyperreactivity and multiple chemical sensitivity. This has not been officially acknowledged as of occupational origin although there are more cases around the world, often misdiagnosed as psychosomatic or anything.
Anyone reading this message is requested to spread the word and warn others because there are influential interests preventing the open release of information concerning persons actually going ill because of these office machines.