August 3, 2007

HP Responds To QUT Laser Printer Study

On Tuesday, I linked to a report from Australian researchers that found laser-printer particulates in high amounts in offices. The report suggested that laser printers could present a health hazard with such high levels in areas where people work long hours. I suggested that it sounded more like a great new market for personal-injury litigation.

Hewlett-Packard contacted me late yesterday and asked to respond publicly to the study here at Captain's Quarters. The statement comes from Tuan Tran, HP's Vice President of marketing for supplies:

After a preliminary review of the Queensland University of Technology research on particle emission characteristics of office printers, HP does not agree with its conclusion or some of the bold claims the authors have made recently in press reports.

HP stands behind the safety of its products. Testing of ultrafine particles is a very new scientific discipline. There are no indications that ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from laser printing systems are associated with special health risks. Currently, the nature and chemical composition of such particles – whether from a laser printer or from a toaster – cannot be accurately characterized by analytical technology. However, many experts believe that many of the UFPs found in common household and office products are not discrete solid particles, but may be condensation products or small droplets created during thermal processes.

HP agrees more testing in this area is needed, which is why we’ve been active with two of the world’s leading independent authorities on this subject: Air Quality Sciences in the United States and the Wilhelm-Klauditz Institute in Germany.

Vigorous tests are an integral part of HP’s research and development and its strict quality-control procedures. HP LaserJet printing systems, original HP print cartridges and papers are tested for dust release and possible material emissions and are compliant with all applicable international health and safety requirements. In addition to meeting or exceeding these guidelines, HP’s design criteria for its laser printing systems incorporate guidelines from both the Blue Angel program in Germany and the Greenguard program in the United States.

Based on our own testing, HP knows that many variables can affect the outcome of tests for ultrafine particle emissions. Although HP is not aware of all of the specific methodologies used in the Queensland study, based on what we’ve seen in the report – as well as our own work in this area – we do not believe there is a link between printer emissions and any public health risk. Specifically, HP does not see an association between printer use by customers and negative health effects for volatile organic compounds, ozone or dust. While we recognize ultrafine, fine, and coarse particles are emitted from printing systems, these levels are consistently below recognized occupational exposure limits.

HP hopes to learn more from the study authors about how products were chosen for the study, how ranges were determined given no standards exist, and many other factors that could have influenced the results.


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Comments (14)

Posted by stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 3, 2007 6:26 AM

Quite a dust up! CQ gets HP's attention. QUT research project gets HP's attention. Can we now breath?

Posted by J | August 3, 2007 6:35 AM

I came out of the computer industry. For its entire history, the level of product testing has been incredibly thorough. The industry involves a lot of chemicals and the control exercised over the obtaining, use and dissemination of products using these chemicals is probably unprecedented in manufacturing history.

In addition, this industry has used "clean" rooms for decades. When I first read of this study, my "red flag" sensor rose immediately. Something just doesn't make sense here. (Nor did anything about Beachamp's article either. Why would a burn victim be eating in a mess hall? My understanding is they are air lifted out asap and to hospitals. And, as for the skull, the German soldiers were caught doing this in Afghanistan in 2006 - this story hit the German papers while Beauchamp was stationed in Germany. Coincidence? I think not.)

Posted by brainy435 [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 3, 2007 6:46 AM

Kudos to HP for going straight to the people to defend themselves. Guess they read that study about how much time people spend online at work.

Posted by PersonFromPorlock | August 3, 2007 7:03 AM

HP does not agree with its conclusion... HP stands behind the safety of its products... There are no indications that ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from laser printing systems are associated with special health risks... However, many experts believe... Based on our own testing... etc.

Without knowing anything about the claimed health risk (and being pretty cynical about 'researchers'), HP's response still sounds like they're whistling in the dark and hoping people will call it a symphony.

Posted by JIm Douglass | August 3, 2007 7:35 AM

HP does not agree with its conclusion... HP stands behind the safety of its products... There are no indications that ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from laser printing systems are associated with special health risks... However, many experts believe... Based on our own testing... etc.
years ago most most communication Technicians I knew would kill to have he latest Hewlett-Packard test euipment on their bench or in their vehicle. HP was, and still is a great company with an army of very dedicated intelligent people working hard everyday to put out a great line o products and services.

Jim Douglass
Garden i City, Kansas

Posted by AnonymousDrivel | August 3, 2007 8:40 AM

Well done, Ed. You presented a story, the readership commented, HP noticed and promptly responded, and you posted their response. This seems like an example of how the blogosphere has once again matured just a bit more. This is the type of responsible debate that should continue to grow despite the fact that it could get heated.

And kudos to HP for their rapid response team. I've used their products and find some of their business practices to be excellent while others of theirs less so; however, they seem pretty attuned to this new medium's impact (a medium that's aging nicely now) and have channels to address their critics. That's good business. Whether their response is canned legalese or direct, factual data will be up to the consumer to decide, but HP's marketing is on the ball here.

Posted by unclesmrgol | August 3, 2007 9:56 AM

Wow. I'm hearing the tobacco companies all over again. An admission that ultra-fine particle emission may exist, but are below "recognized occupational exposure limits".

Pardon me, but what "recognized occupational exposure limits?" I live in California, bastion of the nanny government, and I haven't seen a state law or rule yet governing exposure to toner particles. In fact, the AQMD has a web page on ultrafine particle exposure, and it was last updated in July 2003; their last conference on the matter was in March 2006, and it concentrated on ultrafine particles from combustion. If this stuff wasn't on California's radar screen, then I can't see how any rules or guidelines exist. So, "HP tech support" says something absolutely true on the face of things, but absolutely useless as well.

Posted by Jason | August 3, 2007 10:56 AM

"Wow. I'm hearing the tobacco companies all over again."

I hate vacuous asseverations like that. Do you mean merely in the sense they argue over possible health complications caused by their product? Then yeah...bfd.

The effects of smoking were intensively documented by dozens and dozens of long term studies. As far as toner is concerned, there is only 1 short term study which, as far as I can tell, has no epidemeology behind it.

So what really is HP to do at this point? Freak out and recall millions of printers and copiers as you seem to think apposite?

Posted by Bruce | August 3, 2007 11:36 AM

20 years I worked at a University that had these huge Xerox laser printers that did 90pgs per minutes.

We filled the toner container from platic bottles of toner.

We HAD to wear a face mask.

We were WARNED then it was dangerous.

Posted by Greg F | August 3, 2007 1:48 PM

Referring back to the article the Captain linked to, "Printers 'as unhealthy as cigarettes'", much of what is stated is not supported by the peer reviewed study published in "Environmental Science and Technology". It is educational to read the study and compare it to the news article.

The headline "Printers 'as unhealthy as cigarettes' " is nonsense. The only relevant comparison in the study equated cigarettes and the printer's particle number emission rate.

The highest printer particle number emission rate found in the chamber study was 1.6 x 10^11 particle min-1, which is close to the median value of submicrometer particle number emission rates for activities, such as cigarette smoking (1.91 x 10^11 particle min-1), occurring in residential houses (20).

It was only with the worse printer, inside a test chamber, (where the concentration would be higher then under normal operating conditions), that the emission rates were similar. There are no claims in the peer reviewed article of any other equivalency with cigarette smoke.

The lead author is quoted as saying:

Ultra-fine particles are of most concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs where they can pose a significant health threat.

Once again there is nothing in the peer reviewed article to support such an assertion. Testing is done under extreme circumstances to look for possible health effects.

A manufacturer sponsored chronic inhalation study in rats using a special test toner revealed there were no lung changes at all in the lowest exposure level (1mg/m3), the most relevant level to potential human exposures. A very slight degree of fibrosis was noted in 25% of the animals at the middle exposure level (4mg/m3), while a slight degree of fibrosis was observed at the highest exposure level (16mg/m3) in all animals. These findings are attributed to “Lung Overloading”, a generic response to excessive amount of any dust retained in the lungs for a prolonged interval. The special test toner was ten times more respirable than commercially available toner to comply with EPA testing protocol and would not function properly in Xerographic equipment.

The lead author is also quoted as saying:

These printer particles are tiny, like cigarette smoke particles, and when deep inside the lung they do the same amount of damage.

Again, the peer reviewed study does not support this assertion. The statement is pure nonsense. There is no evidence that toner is significantly toxic or mutagenic. Read this.

There is significant evidence that toner dust is rather benign. Making claims to possible health effects, when evidence to the contrary is available, is grossly irresponsible. Then again, this is what I have come to expect from the typical journalist.

Posted by Ray | August 3, 2007 7:48 PM

I wonder if the researchers who performed the study understand that the human lungs have a mechanisms to trap and depose of "fine particulate matter" (normally called dust) in the air they breath? Do they know that the lungs are coated with mucus membranes that trap the partials? Do they know that the lungs are lined with cilia that continually transports this mucus, and the matter trapped within, into the upper respiratory tract for disposal? Do they understand that humans have these mechanisms as we have been exposed to both solid and liquid forms of fine particulate matter in the natural environment throughout our entire existence?

People, just because there's something in the air, doesn't mean it will make you sick. Do you realize that a majority of indoor dust is old skin cells? My God! You're breathing in your own skin and the skin of others! That can't be good! Did you know that a large portion of airborne dust contains things like the decayed parts of dead insects? My God! It's the fly times a billion! Run away! Run away!

I've heard too many of these kinds of reports in my lifetime. I have heard, at one time or another, that just about everything I eat, drink, breath, or touch is in some way harmful to me. Yet despite all the studies, despite all the alarms, despite all the claims of immanent health problems, I am still alive. Do you know what that tells me? It tells me that the majority of these studies are ether flawed or the health risks involved are greatly overstated.

Until a definitive link can be determined between the chemicals used in toner and any serious heath problem, I'll just cough a few times and hack a loogie on this latest "study".

Posted by Ray | August 3, 2007 8:09 PM

BTW, the study in question does not state that the particles are in any way harmful. Nor does it state how much exposure each person may experience in a typical office building. Most modern HVAC equipment not only filters outside air before it's introduced into the building, it continually filters the indoor air as well. Just because laser printers, like just about everything else, emit fine particulate matter, it doesn't mean that you are being exposed to high levels.

If you are concerned bout being exposed to laser toner in the air, ask your building maintenance people if the HVAC systems employ indoor air filtration. If not, get yourself a desktop air cleaner. You can get them for about 30 dollars. Then you wouldn't have to worry about contaminated air and you can all breath a little easier.

Posted by jaeger51 | August 4, 2007 12:43 AM

Flash! This just in! New study finds that life is fatal, without exception! After a 35 year, $20 million dollar study, doctors at a prestigious research center have determined that every human studied eventually died, some faster than others. The initial findings point to various factors, not completely understood by the researchers. However, the EPA and action groups are calling for an investigation and possible ban on any factors that may be named.

Posted by jaeger51 | August 4, 2007 12:46 AM

AP- NEW STUDY FINDS THAT LIFE IS INEVITABLY FATAL After a 105 year, $50 million dollar study, doctors at a prestigious research center have determined that every human studied eventually died, some faster than others. The initial findings point to various factors, not completely understood by the researchers. However, the EPA and action groups are calling for an investigation and ban of any factors that may be named.

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