Q & A: Photocopier smells Bad air quality and environmental illness and symptoms may be from chemicals, gases, vocs

 
Q. I am the only person working in an approximately 90 sq ft office. The door is always open, a small vent does bring in air conditioning. The office is also the home of a fairly large photocopier in use all day. It is not really "hot"°≠but there is the constant smell of burnt air emanating from the copier. When I work at my desk (which also has a computer (PC) and a color printer), I have a horrible time keeping awake and I have found my concentration lagging and have increasing difficulty with memory during the day. I have been working there only a few months, enjoy the job and have otherwise no outside problems and/or stressors. When I mentioned this to a colleague, he did admit that prior occupants had noted similar problems, though they mostly thought that the room was too hot. I do not believe it is a heat problem as I can go outside into a very hot and humid environment and "clear" my head in a few minutes. Is there something in the photocopying environment that be causing this?
J.- Florida



A. There have been several studies that have implicated office photocopiers and building-related illness symptoms. Photocopiers produce ozone, which reacts with toner decomposition products. Toner is about 20-30% carbon black with the rest binder and other substances. The binder is usually styrene-butadiene latex.

A variety of decomposition products are produced, most notably aldehydes. In chamber studies (simulating an office work environment) conducted in Denmark formaldehyde levels steadily increased throughout the day as office equipment such as photocopiers were used.
Formaldehyde is but one of dozens of byproducts produced by electrostatic photocopiers. Illness symptoms may be due to formaldehyde exposures, exposure to decomposition products collectively (excluding formaldehyde) or to a combination of these. I believe it is the combined exposure that is responsible. A 90-square foot office may be OK for an individual occupant. It may even be OK for a large photocopier by itself (many photocopiers are put in poorly-ventilated spaces). It is not an appropriate environment for both a large photocopier and someone working there full-time.