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Question from Sttlove

Hi Debra,

I just bought a MacBook Pro for my son, and I am very happy with it. We had previously purchased a Lenovo laptop, but returned because it was full of awful toxins. So now we need a printer, and I am not sure what to get. Do printers contain fire retardants and lead, and all that lovely stuff too? If so, is there a particular brand that is less toxic?

Debra’s Answer

This is a great question, which prompted me to do more research on the subject.

I did some research in the past on toxics in inkjet printer ink but I hadn’t researched the printers themselves.

But there is some research available.

There is a great article at Indoor Pollutant Emissions from Electronic Office Equipment which was funded by the California Air Resources Board.

They tested for toxics emitting from computers and printers. Interestingly, they studied a number of laser printers and only one inkjet printer, so right off it appears there is greater concern with laser printers. Laser printers used to be very expensive but are now in the same price range as inkjets, so the first thing would be to choose an inkjet over a laser. “Laser printers emit large number counts of ultrarfine particles to fine particles—these emissions occur during printing but are often elevated further during initial cold start prints.”

There’s an interesting slide called “Decline of VOC Emissions after “Aging” that showed a steep reduction in toxic emissions from out-o-f-box to 100 hours, but even at 400 hours about 15% of the original emissions still remained. So that would indicate buying used equipment if you can.

Operating printers emit VOCs, SVOCs and siloxanes during operation, I think because of the ink coming out of the case and onto the page. This is true for any printer.

I won’t go into listing all the VOCs that are emitted, but they are listed in the report.

Here is a summary of the chemicals found:

ranking office equipments

They also said “Formaldehyde emissions from computers and dibutylphthalate emissions from printers are possible exceptions—emission are estimated to come close to or exceed the guideline limits.”

Unfortunately, this study did not test emissions from all computers and printers and so there were no recommendations of safer products.

If you need to use a computer and printer, my recommendation is to get a good air purifier to handle these chemicals in your home office or workplace.

And place your computer in a room other than your bedroom, so you aren’t breathing these chemicals all night.

More references to explore:

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