The year 2020 has seen lots of us been spending more time in our home offices. But as it turns out, one of the objects in that space could be incredibly harmful to our overall health. And the shocking information was uncovered in a science paper published the previous December.
Sales of printing devices have generated around $1.2 billion in America in 2020, according to the Statista website. It adds that the compound annual growth rate also suggests that the numbers should increase by more than three percent in the future. Furthermore, the site claimed that the devices have generated roughly $2.1 billion in revenue in China – making it the world’s leading seller.
Printers have lost their importance a little in recent years due to certain online tools, but they’re still in plenty of American homes. And in 2020 many of us have been relying on them a little more than usual. Though what is less known is how these handy machines could be bad our health.
However, let’s first focus on the report that flagged up the potential health risks that come from using printers. As we highlighted earlier, the paper was published back in December 2019 in an issue of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Fifteen individuals worked on the study, and it was helmed by a researcher at West Virginia University called Nancy Lan Guo.
Guo teaches students at the college’s School of Public Health. As for the study itself, she and her colleagues conducted an intriguing experiment to see if household printers were a possible hazard. So, they put a group of rats in chamber with a laser printer and kept them there over the course of three weeks.
The test subjects remained in this chamber for around five hours every day – with the device producing printed documents throughout. During that time, Guo and the others also checked on their health status after stretches of four days.
Guo talked to the WVU Today website in February 2020 to explain why the experts decided on this particular schedule. While reflecting on the experiment, she also outlined why the rats had been placed in such close proximity to the printer.
Guo told the website, “[The chamber was] equivalent to an occupational setting. A rat’s life expectancy is about one or two years. In our life, that would be more like four or eight years of five-hour-a-day exposure [to printers].” And as we’ll discover later, Guo and her colleagues reached a shocking conclusion as the study came to an end.
But printers aren’t the only potential hazard that we need to worry about in our home office. Chairs, for instance, can be problematic for a couple of different reasons. Business Insider reported that working from a seated position could lead to serious health ailments in the future.
The website quoted a study by the manufacturer Ergotron which found that people are more likely to develop issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer if they spend lots of time sitting down. And that’s especially troubling when you consider that 86 percent of employees across America work from their chairs. But there might be a simple solution.
Cornell University teacher Alan Hedge told The Boston Globe newspaper in November 2014 that people should step away from their desks a couple of times every hour. He classed these periods as “moving breaks.” Hedge also said that workers should not sit for more than 20 minutes at any one time.
Elsehwere, chief medical officer at ACAP Health Consulting Timothy Church explained to Huffington Post why chairs could cause health issues. He also suggested that moving breaks should be absolutely essential for seated workers. Church told the website in 2012, “The more physical activity you do throughout the day, the healthier you are going to be – bottom line.”
“When engaged, your muscles metabolize blood sugar,” Church went on. “But when you’re sitting all day, you’re at risk for metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes and heart disease.” And he added that jobs deemed to be “moderately active” have decreased massively since 1960, while jobs involving workers sitting have largely replaced them.
Church added, “It’s [also] amazing what physical activity does for stress, anxiety and mild depression. Stress is a very physical symptom – important chemicals in the brain are positively affected by physical activity. When you’re active, you feel like a better person. There is something very powerful about physical activity that reduces stress both short term and long term.”
But it isn’t just chairs; office computers can be problematic for your health, too. Most desk jobs require employees to stay at their screens for hours at a time throughout the day. And as per the Greatist.com website, that could cause a particularly painful ailment down the line.
The condition is referred to as computer vision syndrome (CVS). Patients with it can develop issues such as optic pain, hazy vision, headaches and a sore neck. Incredibly, the website claimed that up to 90 percent of people who hold office jobs have to deal with CVS at one time or another.
Greatist.com also suggested that over 70 percent of people exhibiting CVS symptoms sported glasses and visual aids, too. But the impact of the condition can be lessened if you’re willing to implement certain changes to your set up. For example, you could alter the position of your desktop.
The website reported that your computer must be “an arm’s length away” from your eyes to have the desired effect. The device should also be situated at an angle so that you’re not looking up at it. Ideally, it has to be lower in order to help ease the strain on your neck.
The glare of the desktop monitor can also be adjusted as well. Altering your light settings can give your eyes some much-needed respite during a long work day. However, CVS isn’t the only thing that you have to worry about when working with a computer throughout the week.
In June 2014 the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed that computer screens can have a big impact on your sleeping patterns, too. The findings noted that desktop glare could cause people to lose out on vital shut-eye when coupled with a lack of daylight in the office. In turn, that would likely lead to feelings of tiredness the next day.
These aforementioned results also mirrored the findings from a previous paper relating to sleep from 2003. On that occasion, experts discovered that staring at a desktop monitor ahead of bed-time could affect your melatonin levels. And that hormone plays a massive role when it comes to rest, according to the WebMD website.
The human body produces most of its melatonin in the evening – signifying the time to fall asleep. Then, during the day, your consumption of light should lessen the amount in your system, and then the cycle begins again. But the brightness from a computer monitor can confuse matters at night.
The Journal of Applied Physiology published a study in 2003 which examined how computer use during the night impacted melatonin levels. And the researchers ascertained that production of the hormone was seriously impacted by the light of desktop screens. As a result of that, people who work evening shifts might struggle to rest once they’re done.
Evidently, all of the previously mentioned issues can have a negative impact on your health, but printers are arguably one of the biggest hazards in the office. Going back to Guo’s project, she and her fellow researchers were specifically focused on the toner that the device used. Apparently, they had wanted to see if it could alter certain genes.
Guo and company zoned in on the rats’ blood and lungs during their experiment. And the group soon noticed that their test subjects’ genetics had been affected in significant ways. Surprisingly, the rodents’ immune systems and metabolism showed signs of negative alteration after the first day.
The team also reported some additionally worrying information about their test subjects by the end of the three-week experiment. For you see, the toner had apparently altered parts of the rats’ genetic structure that could lead to heart problems and neurological issues in the future.
Guo was quite concerned by what the team had found, and she reflected on the results with WVU Today. If the rats were affected by the toner nanoparticles, then the human body could also face similar risks from laser printers, too. So on that note, the researcher didn’t mince her words in February 2020.
Guo informed the website, “The changes are very significant from day one. I don’t want to alarm people, but special ventilation and exposure controls should be installed in rooms where laser printers are in heavy duty use. The concentration of nanoparticles released in the air during the printing and copying process is strongly correlated with the printing activities.”
Guo then made it clear that certain individuals could be more vulnerable than others. She continued, “In particular, there is one group I really think should know about this: pregnant women. Because once a lot of these genes are changed, they get passed on through the generations. It’s not just you.”
Guo and her colleagues also made sure to study the rats’ metabolite readings as well. The researcher then explained what she meant by that, “Let’s say we eat something. Where does the food go? It goes to metabolites. It gets absorbed. All these metabolites are involved in our function.”
Essentially, metabolites act as fuel for our bodies, and certain particles offer us an energetic boost. Yet in the rats’ case, their readings had been affected by the printer toner – much like their genes. So the possibility of them developing neurological and cardiovascular ailments was only strengthened.
Guo’s work was definitely eye-opening, but she wasn’t the first person to investigate the dangers of printer toner. A group of researchers from Australia actually conducted a test of their own back in 2007. Instead of using rats, though, they measured the readings of more than 60 devices inside a normal office.
The experts then concluded their study and revealed that a total of 17 printers produced the harmful nanoparticles. To explain more, a physician from the Queensland University of Technology named Lidia Morawska spoke to the Daily Mail newspaper in August 2007. And she made a troubling comparison during the interview.
Dr. Morawska told the British publication, “[The] ultra-fine particles are of most concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs where they can pose a significant health risk. These particles are tiny like cigarette smoke particles. And when deep inside the lungs, they do the same amount of damage.”
“It wasn’t an area that we consciously decided to study,” Morawska admitted. “We came across it by chance. Initially we were studying the efficacy of ventilation systems to protect office settings from outdoor air pollutants. We soon realized that we were seeing air pollution originating indoors, from laser printers. Even very small concentrations can be related to health hazards.”
For its part, the British Lung Foundation offered a response to the findings from Australia. One of the charity’s representatives spoke to the newspaper and echoed Guo’s words from over a decade later. A physician named Emrys Evans said, “It sounds like interesting research.”
“Most of us spend 90 percent of our time indoors,” Dr. Evans added. “So it is important to ensure that the air we breathe is as clear and unpolluted as possible. And to that end, offices should always be kept well ventilated.” As for Guo, she and the other researchers aimed to study the effect of the nanoparticles in humans firsthand.
Guo began to study employees who worked at a printing firm in Singapore. Just like with the rats, she and her team focused on certain areas of their genetic makeup after getting exposed. Shockingly, the results mirrored that of the previous test subjects. Furthermore, the ages of those affected raised alarm bells.
Guo told WVU Today, “A lot of the workers ranged from 20 to their early 30s, and you’re already starting to see all of these [genetic] changes. [But] we have to work, right? Now if I have a lot to print, I don’t use the printer in my office. I print it in the hallway.”