Is laser printer toner dangerous?
May 5, 2006 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Is it unhealthy to ingest/breath laser printer toner? Just wondering how much could affect someone's health.

I deal with laser printers at my job, and I regularly have toner on my hands and such. So I was curious about how dangerous, if at all, toner is. I try to be pretty careful (always wash my hands well, don't like my fingers, etc.), but sometimes it's hard to avoid a cloud of toner in my face. Should I be worried?
posted by svdodge to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Well, it's not good to inhale, but an occasional puff shouldn't be too bad. It might behoove you to wear some sort of respirator or face mask if these clouds happen a lot. As far as the hands, it's really no worse than drawing on your skin with a pen. The main thing is to use cold water on your hands. That way, the toner won't fuse to your skin.
posted by fvox13 at 4:07 PM on May 5, 2006

Photocopier/Laser Printer Toners -Irritant, Flammable

Although dry and liquid toners for photocopy machines and laser printers contain chemicals such as carbon black and resins that have the potential to harm at high concentration, they are normally contained and do not represent a significant hazard. Prolonged exposure to toner powder or vapors may cause eye and/or respiratory irritation and should be avoided. Having disposable gloves available may be a good precaution when handling the toner cartridges. Also, it is important to remember to turn off the power supply or unplug the machine when anyone is servicing the equipment.

Many photocopy machines and laser printers produce small quantities of ozone as a by-product of the copying process. This toxic gas, which has a pungent sweet odor, can irritate the eyes, nose and/or throat. Check with the manufacturer to see if your photocopier or laser printer is equipped with an ozone filter.

The best protection when using copy machine or laser printer products involves good ventilation, avoiding skin and eye contact, and using the products according to the manufacturer's recommendations as written on the label or in the MSDS.
(from google's "view as HTML" version of this word doc online)
posted by misterbrandt at 4:38 PM on May 5, 2006

The MSDS for HP's black toner makes it look like I wouldn't be too worried about it.
posted by grouse at 5:05 PM on May 5, 2006

While working within the printer division at Adobe, this was a real concern that was addressed. The answer concurs with what was above. In the development wing, there were dozens of laser printers spewing out pages constantly. While the ventillation system was spec'ed to exchange a huge amount of air, you wouldn't believe how often workstation monitors required cleaning. I think the worst issue, honestly, was a preponderance of boogers.
posted by plinth at 6:41 PM on May 5, 2006

Conceivably you could get black lung if you inhaled sufficient amounts of black toner over time but that's unlikely even in a test lab like plinth mentioned. There will be other additives, like resins and magnetic compounds (depends on the system, not all use magnetism) so your precautions are probably sufficient. Colored toners will have slightly different chemical compositions, so check the manufacturer's docs for their recommendations.

Your best bet is to use cold water when washing (including clothes) since toner is intended to melt (that's how it adheres to the paper) and may bind to skin and fabrics if you use hot water.

Perhaps the biggest danger with toner is a "tribo explosion" as a result of static electricity. But you usually need a fairly large and concentrated toner cloud, so this is more a toner plant problem than one you'll encounter in a office setting.

I would be more concerned about the ozone, as it causes headaches in most people, even with minor exposure. Ventilation is the key, of course. Even printers with ozone filters will have some, though at reduced levels.

I work at a big printer company and I've been on a couple of product development teams, so I've had first hand experience with toner and ozone.
posted by tommasz at 7:10 PM on May 5, 2006

We have these neat wipes at work called Rhinotek wipes, which come with some of the toner we purchase now and then. I can't find them anywhere individually, but this looks similar to it.
posted by vkxmai at 8:23 PM on May 5, 2006

In addition to being good, a printer must affect the indoor climate and external environment as little as possible.
A printer certified in accordance with TCO Development's standard TCO'99 Printers fulfils a number of criteria, which guarantee that it does precisely that.
This standard covers requirements within the areas of ergonomics, emissions, energy, and ecology.
posted by Lanark at 10:24 AM on May 6, 2006

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