Computers and Toxic Ozone

If you are obsessed with computers, you are making friends with the toxic Ozone. Yes, it is the same Ozone, which protects the Earth from dangerous outer space radiation.

Laser printers are essentially responsible for the generation of Ozone. A laser printer generates several electrical charges. In a laser printer the light source is, not surprisingly, a laser. The light creates an electrostatic image of the page on to a charged photoreceptor, which in turn attracts toner in the shape of an electrostatic charge. These electrostatic charges generated in laser printers give rise to Ozone, turning your workplace into a hazardous area!

However, the question that arises is what concentration of Ozone—which is also found in nature— could prove to be a health risk?

Ozone arising out of printers irritates the mucous membrane of the nose, eyes and throat. Concentrations just over 1 ppm can cause headaches, decreased pulse rate and blood pressure, lacrimation, dermatitis, and irritation of the eye, nose and respiratory system. Increasing concentrations cause increasing severity of symptoms, ultimately resulting in pulmonary edema and chronic respiratory disease.

Unfortunately, people who suffer from asthma, respiratory allergies, or chemical sensitivity can experience symptoms at much lower concentrations than other people do. In the US, research on animals has shown that exposure to Ozone may produce cancer.

Many of the later models of laser printers are trying to filter out the Ozone, but it still remains a major cause for concern. These printers make use of Ozone filters as well as the so-claimed optimised printing techniques to reduce the Ozone content being generated. Unfortunately, most offices use older models of laser printers, which can be very harmful.

While many experts contend that Ozone from printers is quite harmless, it is advisable not to place the laser printers very close to the working area. In an isolated room, without any ventilation or fresh air, the Ozone level can reach dangerous levels. Very dangerous, as most of us work in closed offices!

Printer manufacturers, Hewlett-Packard for one, claim to have developed a new technology that will no longer produce Ozone. These are claims, which are yet to be substantiated.

Some precautions to take

Taking a few precautionary steps will, however, ensure that you are protected from the toxic effects of Ozone. If your printer is about a year or more old, the rule is to open the windows frequently and air the room well. Ozone dissolves in fresh air and will therefore pose no risk.

Offices must carefully plan the location of laser printers to minimise the potential for irritation. In general, these machines should be located so that the following conditions are satisfied. If possible, place the printer outside your working room in a well-ventilated area. In case this is not possible, make sure that it is at least 3 feet from the breathing zone of the closest person. Ensure that the fan discharge ports are not directed towards employees.

Multiple printers or copiers should not be concentrated in one area unless there are ventilation and temperature controls appropriate for the number of machines. It is always advisable to avoid the simultaneous operation of multiple machines in a given area.

If the laser printer has an ozone filter, change it regularly. It is also a good idea to have wall mounted or desktop air filtration units (carbon based filters are recommended). Diligently follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance and replacement of the ozone filters. This may require a service contract for copiers since their filters are not user replaceable. Switch off the printer when not in use.

Make sure that these simple but effective precautions are followed. These steps will protect your workplace from turning into a poison plant.

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