This everyday office item could be taking years off your life

Shutterstock

The office is a very scary place these days. You might think the No.1 thing to avoid in your office is that suspiciously always sick coworker, but it turns out you actually need to keep your distance from this everyday office item.

While you still should keep your distance from that coughing coworker, you also should avoid sitting near the printer, as its toner could be toxic to your health. Between Coronavirus and printer toner, no one is safe.

According to a new study from West Virginia University, microscopic toner nanoparticles that come from laser printers may possibly change people’s genetic and metabolic profiles in ways that make the disease more likely.

How did they conduct this study?

During a 21 day study, researcher Nancy Lan Guo and her colleagues put rats into a chamber with a laser printer. The rats stayed in the chamber for five hours each day as the printer ran continuously.

According to Guo, these conditions model human exposure to laser printers. A rat’s life expectancy is about one or two years, so in our life, it would be about four to eight years of five-hour-a-day exposure.

Every four hours over the 21 days researchers took a look at the rats’ lung cells and blood to determine if their genetic material had changed.

What are the genetic dangers of inhaling printer toner?

Something that changes a person’s genetic material can disrupt how cells make proteins, which is a process crucial to life itself.

“We do everything because certain proteins function in certain ways,” Guo said.

The team found that just a single day of toner-particle exposure can disturb the activity of genes linked to  metabolism, immune response and other essential biological processes in the rat models.

The researchers observed genomic changes linked to cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic disorders.

What are the metabolic dangers of inhaling printer toner?

In addition to genetic dangers, there were metabolic risks to inhaling printer toner as well. Metabolites, like glucose and oleic acid, are the molecules that emerge as the body digests food and uses it for fuel.

“Let’s say we eat something,” Guo said. “Where does the food go? It goes to metabolites. It gets absorbed. All these metabolites are involved in our function.”

The researchers tested the rats’ metabolic levels, and the findings reinforced their other findings, which led them to the conclusion that the same health risks that the genetic profiles pointed to were implicated by the metabolic profiles as well.

Who should be concerned about inhaling printer toner?

“In particular, there is one group I really think should know about this: pregnant women,” Guo said. “Because once a lot of these genes are changed, they get passed on through the generations. It’s not just you.”

Can inhaling printer toner have the same effects on people?

Due to the apparent effects of inhaling printer toner, Guo and her colleagues have since investigated the genomic changes that Singaporean printing company workers have experienced.

The team concluded that in many ways, the workers’ genomes changed the same ways the rats’ genomes did.

“And they’re very young,” Guo said. “A lot of the workers ranged from 20 to their early 30s, and you’re already starting to see all of these changes.”

What does this mean for the future of printing?

Guo isn’t suggesting that people stop using printers altogether, but recommends taking extra precautions.

“I don’t want to alarm people,” Guo said, “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.”

Though we are in the digital age, Guo knows most people will still need to use printers throughout their lives.

“We have to work, right? Who doesn’t have a printer nowadays, either at home or at the office? But now, if I have a lot to print, I don’t use the printer in my office. I print it in the hallway,” Guo said.