Literature survey on the toxicity of the constituents of paper and paper dust

Project No. IFA 1109


completed 02/2011


Paper is a product of complex and diverse composition, and one which is ubiquitous at office workplaces. At times in the recent past, concerns have been raised regarding the possible health hazards resulting from exposure to paper, specifically paper dust, for example during the shredding of documents. Reports of possible paper dust emissions from printers and photocopiers have also led to concerns. A literature study was therefore to be conducted to obtain a general overview concerning the composition and toxicity of the constituents of primary fibre and recycled paper and the possible effects upon human health associated with exposure to papers used in offices, i.e. the dust from them.


Web searches were conducted in order to obtain information on the composition and toxicity of the constituents of primary fibre and recycled paper, on regulations/recommendations, and on the findings regarding the impact upon health of exposure to office papers and paper dusts. The results of the searches were evaluated. Present knowledge of the role played by photocopier paper in ultrafine particle emissions from laser printers and photocopiers was also presented.


A generic characterization of paper is not possible. Papers and their dusts, particularly certain paper types and recycled paper, may contain a range of hazardous substances, the majority of which however are probably present only in trace quantities.

In sporadic cases, papers have been described as the source of a contact-allergic reaction, for example owing to their rosin content; separate consideration must be given to possible physical irritant effects resulting from intense contact with paper dust. Some epidemiological studies (cross-sectional studies, case-control studies) describe relationships between complaints among office workers, such as irritation of the airways and general symptoms (for example resembling sick-building syndrome), rhinitis and asthma on the one hand, and prior exposure to paper dust on the other. However, these studies do not enable scientifically verifiable causality to be clearly established, since for example objective analyses have not been performed of the dust exposure at the affected workplaces. Indications of the adverse effects of paper dust, particularly upon the upper airways, are described in cross-sectional studies at workplaces for example in plants manufacturing soft tissue paper. Such workplaces may however be assumed to feature exposure to paper dust at a much higher level than that at office workplaces.

More recent publications indicate that emissions of ultrafine particles from printers and photocopiers are for very much the greater part not the product of paper abrasion, but are condensates of volatile compounds caused by vaporization processes on the fuser units of the equipment.

No specific evidence was found of a substantial health hazard to office employees associated with contact with standard (office) papers and indicating a need for action.

An IFA report presenting the results of the literature survey in detail is available online for interested readers.

Last Update:



Financed by:
  • Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e.V. (DGUV)
Research institution(s):
  • Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IFA)

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

work-related health hazards


working environment (load, hazards, exposure, risks)

Description, key words:

office paper, paper dust, health hazards