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Can toners damage health?

13/2005, 06.05.2005

BfR examines possible links in a pilot study

BfR wishes to examine the possible links between the use of toners and damage to health in a pilot study. Over the last five years doctors have notified around 90 cases to BfR in which allergic reactions had occurred after using laser printers and photocopiers. There are no scientific studies into the effects of toner dust on human beings which could serve as the basis for risk assessment. "The pilot study is to provide us with some initial indications as to whether the operation of laser printers and photocopiers can influence indoor air quality to such a degree that health can suffer", said BfR President Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

The first indications of health damage from toners came from occupational medicine. The people concerned complained mainly of allergic symptoms: runny nose, painful eyes and throat. In some cases, they showed symptoms of asthma-like coughing. In 2000 the precursor institute to BfR, therefore, asked to be notified of cases of this kind. In its brochure “Medical Notifications of intoxications“ (Ärztliche Mitteilungen bei Vergiftungen 2002). the Institute described the clinical picture and raised awareness once again amongst doctors and public health departments of symptoms and links of this kind. Up to now, around 90 cases have been documented by doctors and employers’ liability insurance associations and reported to BfR. The interest group of people who have suffered damage from toners states that the number of people actually affected is at least 700.

“The special challenge when assessing the potential health risks of toners is the large number of possible different sources of dangerous substances“, commented Dr. Wolfgang Lingk, Department Head within BfR with responsibility for the safety of substances and preparations.  “Firstly, we do not know what chemical components are contained in commercial toners. Secondly, besides the constituents of toners, substances released during the printing process – like paper dust or material abrasion of the machines – must also be taken into account“. Printing and copying processes are complex physico-chemical procedures during which volatile organic compounds from various chemical classes, miniscule particles from toners, and paper and gases are released into indoor air. For the users of laser printers and photocopiers this leads to relatively high exposure to a series of substances, including potentially harmful ones.

The manufacturers of “dangerous products“ are obliged to provide information on their formulations and, by extension, on their constituents to BfR so that effective counter-measures can be taken as quickly as possible in the event of poisoning. However, toners are not classified as “dangerous products“. Hence, there is no obligation to provide information on the formulations. Nevertheless, in order to assess the health risk from toners for the users of laser printers and photocopiers, the Institute asks manufacturers to provide information on the composition of their products.

The pilot study on the health risk from toners is to start soon and will last for about one year. The Institute for Indoor Air and Environmental Toxicology of Giessen University has been commissioned to carry out this study by BfR which will also provide the funds. Professor Dr. Volker Mersch-Sundermann, who has a chair of environmental toxicology in Giessen, is to coordinate the study. WIthin the framework of the study, for which Professor Mersch-Sundermann submitted a draft design, personal, environmental and workplace-related data are to be recorded and linked to one another.

When assessing potential health damage from toners, BfR engages in a scientific exchange with other federal institutions which address this problem in conjunction with their scientific work. They include the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (FIOSH) in Dortmund, the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) in Berlin and the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) in Dessau.

Further information on this subject can be accessed on our homepage ( under “Chemicals/Intoxications“.



Date Title Size
Ergänzte Stellungnahme Nr. 017/2005 des BfR
Gesundheitsgefährdung durch Toner 38.5 KB


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