BfR does not rule out health impairments caused by emissions from office equipment

Emissions from laser printers, copiers and multi-functional appliances could contribute to causing non-specific symptoms like mucosal disorders, conjunctiva irritations, irritations of the respiratory tract and pharyngeal mucosa. According to the medical data available up to now, no severe health damage has been observed. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) comes to this conclusion in a comprehensive health assessment which now completes its work on the "toner" problem. Besides data from the BfR "toner" study, results from other recent, in some cases, not yet published studies have been included in the evaluation. "It is still not clear which components could trigger the adverse reactions", said BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "High priority should, therefore, be given to studies on the physical and chemical identity of the measured particles in order to be able to derive targeted risk reduction measures, if necessary".

During printing and copying low volatile, semi-volatile and high volatile compounds and dust particles are emitted. In order to clarify any possible associations with health disorders in office workers, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment commissioned a pilot study in 2005 which was designed as a feasibility study. It was carried out by the Institute for Indoor and Environmental Toxicology of the University Clinic Gießen. The human medical tests were performed by the Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine of the Justus Liebig University Gießen. For the study, indoor air was measured in 63 offices in Germany between January and October 2006. 69 of the people working there were examined. The interim results and the final study report were posted on the BfR website.

The study results for most of the technical indoor air parameters were within the normal range. It was not possible to determine the exact composition of fine and ultra-fine particles. Most of the ultrafine particles, the concentration of which temporarily rose by a significant degree when the laser printers and copiers were switched on, did not appear to be toner material. The health disorders of the test persons were non-specific and there were no cases of severe disorders. It may be that individual, particularly sensitive individuals react with the onset of disorders similar to the “sick building syndrome”. So far it was not possible to elucidate in a definitive manner which emission components could trigger these reactions.

Hence, questions remain unanswered even after evaluating the current data on the “toner” problem. In order to close this gap in knowledge, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is of the opinion that additional studies are needed. BfR believes that studies on the physical and chemical identity of the measured particles are the most urgently needed. They should be given high priority. Only when these results are available, should thought be given to follow-up studies. This is because the sensible design of controlled exposure or possible epidemiological studies is not possible without knowledge of particle composition. Studies on the biological cell effect parameters and on the action of the fine and ultrafine particles in in vitro experiments are not required at the present time according to the Institute. This also applies to the conduct of a casuistic study. A comprehensive epidemiological study, as proposed by the scientist who conducted the study on behalf of BfR, Professor Dr. Mersch-Sundermann, in his final report would in principle be suited to recording the possible impact of emissions from office equipment. As the health effects only occur in a small group in the population, a significant statement could, however, only be expected if several million test persons were to take part and undergo comprehensive examination in the study.

Aside from the results of further research, BfR already recommends today that equipment should be used that carries the Blue Angel label. In order to acquire this environmental label, equipment must comply with minimum standards for the emission of volatile organic substances and dust. High, possibly harmful benzene levels, like the ones measured in individual studies for the printing and copying processes, would then be avoided. Finally, BfR refers once again to the recommendations of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) on using printers, procuring new and retrofitting existing equipment and on the requirements to be met by the locations where the equipment is positioned.

Further information on this subject in German language can be accessed in the A-Z Index on the BfR website ( under the letter “T” for toner.

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