Most consumers don’t think twice about using printers, whether at work or at home, but a new study conducted by researchers from West Virginia University has shed light on the dangers associated with printer toner.
The study revealed that the nanoparticles that are released into the air from printer toner can affect the way genes respond throughout the body. The findings suggest that these particles could ultimately increase the risk of disease.
“I don’t want to alarm people, but special ventilation and exposure controls should be installed in rooms where laser printers are in heavy-duty use, because the concentration of nanoparticles released in the air during the printing and copying process is strongly correlated with the printing activities,” said researcher Nancy Lan Guo.
Understanding the risks
The researchers mimicked a traditional office setting for the study but used mice to see how exposure from a laser printer can affect the body. For five hours a day for three weeks, the mice stayed in close contact with the printer.
The researchers assessed blood samples and lung cells from the mice periodically over the course of the study. With this information, the researchers were able to see if there were any genetic changes to the mice as a result from exposure to the printer.
After one day in close proximity to the printer, Guo found that the “changes [were] very significant.” However, the risks increased after observing the mice for the full three weeks.
The researchers found that consistent exposure to the nanoparticles from the laser printer affected the way genes are typically supposed to react and respond to one another, which can increase the risk of disease.
Because of the way the genes were altered, the researchers noted negative responses with the mice’s immune systems and metabolisms, both of which were compromised after exposure to the printer. Specifically, the team said that the mice were at an increased risk of cardiovascular and neurological disorders.
After gathering these findings, the researchers then worked to translate them to humans. They investigated the effects of workers at a printing company and determined that their bodily reactions were nearly identical to the mice that were analyzed during the first part of the study.
While these findings are certainly cause for concern, the researchers want to warn pregnant women to be mindful of how much time they’re spending in front of printers, as the genetic effects can have even greater consequences.
“Because once a lot of these genes are changed, they get passed on through generations,” Guo explained. “It’s not just you.”