A study by scientists at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia has determined that some laser printers used in offices and homes release tiny particles of toner-like material into the air that people can inhale deep into their lungs, where they may pose a health hazard.

The study team classified 17 out of 62 printers as "high particle emitters" because they released an elevated quantity of particles that were believed to be toner, the ultrafine powder used instead of ink in many printers. One printer released particles into an experimental chamber at a rate comparable to the particle emissions from cigarette smoke. The printers were monitored in an open office and included models sold under the Canon, HP Color Laserjet, Ricoh, and Toshiba brand names.

The study found that indoor particle levels in the office air increased five-fold during work hours due to printer use. Printers emitted more particles when operating with new toner cartridges and when printing graphics and images that require greater quantities of toner.

The study team is calling on government officials to consider regulating emission levels from laser printers. The health effects from inhaled particles depend on the type of particle, but can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illnesses such as cardiovascular problems or cancer.

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