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Laser printers, generally speaking, have a higher print quality and lower operating costs than inkjet printers. I've hesitated to replace the inkjet in my office because I'm concerned about harmful emissions attributed to laser printers. Specifically, many models emit microscopic toner particles into the ambient air, and some produce ozone, as well. Both emissions have been identified as health hazards.

Are there any specific models (or technologies) that avoid this problem?

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2 Answers 2

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If you can afford it, look into a Xerox Phaser model that uses a wax-based solid-state "toner". This material is not really toner at all, but rather more of a wax, just like a crayon. The wax may allow for reduced ozone, because you can use a lower-power laser (less heat/energy needed to melt the wax v. activating/fusing toner). If it's for your home, this is likely a pricey option, but if it's for a business they have comparable pricing to similar-class business printers.

There are some things to be careful of here:

  • Not all the Phaser models use the different "toner", so be careful what you buy. Update: some quick browsing on the Xerox web site indicates they have updated their line-up, and the "ColorQube" brand now distinguishes wax-based printers. Update 2: HP now also has a line of solid wax printers.
  • The older models used to have problems with the wax not drying fast enough, resulting in a sticky residue that sometimes caused paper jams. Newer models are much better about this, but you want to be careful looking at a used printer. This is especially relevant if you're considering this for your home, as I often recommend to home users looking to get a good laser printer that they buy a second-hand mainline-business model rather than a high-end consumer model.

If this doesn't work for you, instead look for a printer where the waste cartridge and the toner cartridge are the same unit (most HPs are like this). These will be simpler for you to maintain, and because everything is in a single enclosed component you have less opportunity for toner particles to escape into the air or into the machine.

Really, though, the toner at least is pretty inert and harmless unless activated. Waste toner is activated briefly while in the fuser, but becomes inactive again almost instantly after leaving it.

As for ozone, most electronics emit ozone at some point. If you've ever smelled a fried gadget, that's what that smell is. You'll take in a lot more ozone in those few moments where it's strong enough to smell than you will in the entire lifecycle of a well-running laser printer.

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Good advice, although I'd be wary of providing medical advice about ozone. –  Resorath Mar 15 '11 at 19:14
    
@Resorath - true. I have no idea what ozone does to you. Just because the levels from printing are much lower than from certain other things doesn't mean the lower levels are okay. But it does help to put it in context. –  Joel Coehoorn Mar 15 '11 at 19:27

The International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health in Brisbane, Australia, has monitored a number of laser printers and listed them by brand and model on their website for the amount of emissions (low, medium and high). Would be good to check some of these before buying. The website for the emissions is: http://www.ilaqh.qut.edu.au/Misc/Printers%20Home.htm Or you can go to their main website and click on "Printer Emissions". That address is: http://www.ilaqh.qut.edu.au/

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