A study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has found that particles emitted from consumer-grade 3D printers could negatively impact indoor air quality and potentially harm respiratory health. The researchers collected particles emitted from 3D printers and conducted tests to gauge their impact on respiratory cell cultures, finding that there is a toxic response to the particles from various types of filaments used by these 3D printers. The study also found that ABS particles emitted from the 3D printers had chemical characteristics that were different than the ABS filament and that better ventilation would limit the amount of exposure to the emissions in commercial buildings, but in residential settings with less effective ventilation, the exposure could be much higher.
3D printing has revolutionised the way we create and manufacture products, allowing for faster and more efficient production. However, a recent study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has found that the particles emitted from consumer-grade 3D printers could negatively impact indoor air quality and potentially harm respiratory health.
The research team collected particles emitted from 3D printers and conducted several tests to gauge their impact on respiratory cell cultures. The results of these tests, which were done at high doses, showed that there is a toxic response to the particles from various types of filaments used by these 3D printers.
3D printers often function by melting plastic filaments and then depositing the solution layer upon layer to form a custom object. However, heating the plastic releases volatile compounds, some of which form ultrafine particles emitted into the air near the printer and the object. Previous research has demonstrated that the hotter the temperature required to melt the filament, the more emissions are produced. As a result, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic filaments, which require a higher temperature to melt, produce more emissions than filaments made of polylactic acid (PLA), which melt at a lower temperature.
To test the impact of these emissions on live cells, the research team exposed human respiratory cells and rat immune system cells to concentrations of the particles from the printers. They found that although the tests did not reflect actual exposures, both ABS and PLA particles negatively impacted the cells. The toxicity tests showed that PLA particles were more toxic than the ABS particles on a per-particle comparison, but because the printers emitted so much more of the ABS, it’s the ABS emissions that end up being more of a concern.
Another finding of the study was that the ABS particles emitted from the 3D printers had chemical characteristics that were different than the ABS filament. The filament companies may add small mass percentages of other compounds to achieve certain characteristics, but they mostly do not disclose what those additives are. Because these additives seem to affect the amount of emissions for ABS, and there can be great variability in the type and amount of additives added to ABS, a consumer may buy a certain ABS filament, and it could produce far more emissions than one from a different vendor.
The study also considered which indoor environmental scenarios would be worst affected by emissions from a 3D printer. They estimated that in a commercial building setting such as a school or an office, better ventilation would limit the amount of exposure to the emissions. However, in a typical residential setting with less effective ventilation, the exposure could be much higher.
It’s important for consumers to be aware of the potential risks associated with 3D printing and take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their indoor air quality. This may include investing in a high-quality air purifier, using 3D printers in well-ventilated areas, and being mindful of the type of filament used in the printer. It’s also important to note that while ABS filaments may produce more emissions, they are also more durable and heat-resistant than other filaments, making them suitable for certain types of products.
It’s also important for filament manufacturers to be transparent about the composition of their filaments, and for consumers to do their research before making a purchase. With the increasing popularity of 3D printing, it’s essential that we consider the potential health risks and take steps to mitigate them.
In conclusion, while 3D printing has many benefits, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks to indoor air quality and take necessary precautions. With better ventilation and the use of safer filaments, we can continue to enjoy the benefits of 3D printing while minimising the potential risks to our health.
How to stay safe doing 3D printing
Some safety precautions that should be used when 3D printing include:
- Using the printer in a well-ventilated area to reduce exposure to emissions.
- Wearing a mask or respirator when working with the printer.
- Keeping the printer away from flammable materials.
- Avoiding prolonged exposure to the emissions.
- Keeping the printer out of reach of children.
- Following the manufacturer’s instructions for the printer and any materials used.
- Regularly cleaning and maintaining the printer.
- Monitoring the printer for any unusual sounds, smells, or other signs of malfunction.
- Using only materials that are safe for 3D printing and have been approved by the manufacturer.
- Avoiding the ingestion or inhalation of the materials being printed.
It’s important to consider the specific hazards of the materials being used and take the appropriate safety measures.
Original article published at https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/10/commercial-3d-printers-emit-traces-of-toxic-fumes-study-finds/