There is no such thing as healthy 3D printing fumes nor a 3D printer that doesn’t emit concerning microparticles into the air. Even industrial models that appear sealed put out measurable particulates.
With the popularity and availability of 3D printers growing exponentially, big businesses and hobbyists alike are using these printers to create an endless possibility of replicated items. As with all new technologies and manufacturing processes, the initial excitement may overshadow important health and safety related precautions. Studies have found that Ultrafine Particles (UFP) are emitted from desktop 3D printers during operation. While UFPs are practically invisible to the naked eye, it is vital to implement a source-capture respiratory safety control to remove these microscopic particles. If UFPs are inhaled, there is a likelihood that the particles will deposit into the lungs and respiratory airways; allowing travel through the olfactory nerve and into the brain, ultimately causing adverse health effects.
3D Printing Health and Safety
3D printing fumes or ultrafine particles carry an occupational hazard designation by several health and safety governing boards, deeming that these fumes hold potential health problems for the respiratory system. Most 3D printing processes utilize high variant thermoplastics and chemically induced materials. When these materials are heated, and/or fused together, they emit UFP fumes that are microscopic to the human eye, measuring at 1/10,000 millimeter or sub-micron range. In a study done by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 3D printing materials that are utilized at a low temperature, can generate over 20 billion particles per minute; with ABS feedstock having the capacity to release over 200 billion, in that same scenario. These nanoparticles can easily enter into one’s body via their respiratory, cardiovascular, and/or nervous system and be extremely harmful to one’s bodily function.
Some research from: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Volume 1, Number 12 (June 2016)
Control Measures Critical for 3D Printers
An industrious college student recently made the news for straightening his own teeth with braces that he made on his school’s three-dimensional (3D) printer. From braces, hearing aids, and prosthetics, to military equipment, the list of products that 3D printers can make relatively easily and cheaply continues to expand. As with all new technologies, however, it is important to identify and address potential workplace health and safety risks.
To understand how 3D printing works, picture plastic Lego blocks, which snap together to form all kinds of elaborate 3D structures. Similarly, the most common type of desktop 3D printer technology joins thin strands, or filaments, made of plastic or natural materials, such as corn. Following a computer-generated image, the 3D printer uses heat to melt and place layers of filament on top of one another to form a precise 3D replica of the image.
As desktop 3D printers become more affordable, they are used more often in offices, public libraries, colleges, and even private homes. Most of these settings do not have controls, like ventilation or source capture technology, to prevent or minimize exposure to emissions. The following two articles describe NIOSH research aimed at understanding and controlling emissions from desktop 3D printers.
Emissions Vary by Filament Type and Color
Previous studies showed that laser printers emit microscopic particles and chemicals from the printers themselves, the paper, and the plastics used in the toner. NIOSH investigators continue to study the possible health effects related to these particles and wanted to find out whether 3D printers have similar emissions.
Working with university partners, NIOSH investigators measured emissions from a desktop 3D printer in a specially designed test chamber that simulates real-world conditions. They found that the tested desktop 3D printer released high numbers of particles as it printed. The emissions peaked a few minutes after printing began, and they did not return to baseline until about 100 minutes after printing ended.
The emissions also varied by filament type and color. Filaments made from natural materials like corn emitted smaller particles than plastic filaments did. This could be because the oil-based plastic particles were more likely to form clumps, according to the investigators. Calculations showed that the risk of the particles lodging in the lungs was 3 times higher for the small particles made from natural substances compared with the larger plastic particles. Color also affected particle size, with natural corn-based filaments in the color true red emitting the smallest particles, on average. In contrast, blue plastic filaments emitted the largest particles.
Investigators found that using the manufacturer-supplied cover on the printer decreased the number of particles by two times, but the reduced number was still high. These findings underscore the importance of using controls to reduce emissions from desktop 3D printers in non-industrial settings. To reduce emissions, the investigators recommend five specific steps:
- Always use the manufacturer’s supplied controls (full enclosure appears more effective at controlling emissions than a cover).
- Use the printer in a well-ventilated place, and directly ventilate the printer.
- Maintain a distance from the printer to minimize breathing in emitted particles, and choose a low-emitting printer and filament when possible.
- Turn off the printer if the printer nozzle jams, and allow it to ventilate before removing the cover.
- Use engineering measures first, such as manufacturer-supplied equipment and proper ventilation, then use materials with lower emissions. Finally, wear protective equipment, such as respirators.
The peer-reviewed Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health published the study.
More information is available:
Emissions Linked to Asthma
In a related, ongoing study, investigators found that a desktop 3D printer emitted smaller particles than those from laser printers that use plastic toner and far greater amounts of certain chemicals linked to asthma. In what they believe is the first discovery of its kind, the investigators also found that 3D printers emit chemicals that combine to form new compounds, including a chemical linked to asthma. These findings, like those of the preceding study, suggest the need to take precautions to reduce emissions from desktop 3D printers in the home and office.
Laser printers produce images or text on paper by using heat to melt toner powder, which is composed of carbon, plastic, and metals such as iron. To compare emissions between 3D and laser printers, the investigators measured emissions from both types of printers in a testing chamber that simulates real-world conditions. They measured the emissions before, during, and after printing. The investigators presented a poster describing preliminary results at a recent American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition Graduate Student Poster Session. They are also completing a manuscript describing their findings, which they will submit to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.
This summer, the investigators plan to use the data from this study to identify the laser printer that emits the greatest amount of particles and asthma-related chemicals. Once they do that, they plan to study the influence of different factors, such as toner and paper type, on emissions from the printer