Your Desktop 3D Printer Could Pose A Health Risk

Low cost desktop 3D printers are becoming more and more accessible to the general public, finding a place in offices and hobbyists' homes as well as professional workshops. Recent research has revealed that some commercial desktop printers may pose a health risk because of their emission of ultra-fine particles or UFPs.

3D Printing image via Shutterstock

This story originally appeared on Lifehacker Australia.

Most consumer level 3D printers work by feeding solid plastic filament through a heated nozzle, depositing material in layers in a process called 'fused deposition modelling' or FDM. The two main types of plastics that are used in 3D printing are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). ABS is the sturdier of the two, whereas PLA is a more flexible, plant-based material.

Printers using both types of materials have been shown to emit high levels of nano-sized ultrafine particles, however, which could potentially be harmful to your health. The study measured UFP emissions from two printers using PLA filament and two identical printers using ABS filament in an enclosed office environment, with both groups turning up high emission rates of up to 200 billion particles per minute for ABS and up to 20 billion for PLA.

What does this mean for 3D printing hobbyists? UFP emissions also come from other domestic sources, such as cooking with an electric frying pan or grilling on a gas or electric stove, and professionals are unsure just how much damage they can do. While the risk to health from UFP exposure is still unclear, it has been linked to negative health effects such as asthma, stroke and heart and lung diseases. Some studies have also shown that UFPs might constitute a larger part of the toxicity of melting plastics than originally thought.

The study also highlights the fact that the chemical makeup of the UFPs might be more important for your safety than the amount you have been exposed to, with ABS registering higher toxicity than the safer, plant-based PLA. However in this study the chemical composition of the UFPs detected was not specified, which has been identified as a limitation of the report.

While this study doesn't mean you should be throwing your printer out the window immediately, it does suggest that you should potentially use it near a window, or somewhere with good ventilation. Avoid setting up desktop printers in your immediate living or working area without adequate ventilation, and consider getting a filtered respirator if you are concerned about the toxicity of the materials you're using to print.

[European Commission]

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    Of course there will be a problem with human exposure. Thirty years ago my father began having health problems because his desk was directly opposite the photocopier room in his place of work. It turns out breathing in toner is very bad for your respiratory system.

      Yeah, laser printers are terrible for their output of these particles, and it's a significantly more pervasive problem than 3D printing could possibly be.

      That said, I really want a 3D printer, they're getting pretty good these days.

    An air cleaner with HEPA filter might be the solution for people who want or need those 3D printers.

      Newer printers like the Up Box have HEPA filters built in, I think they will all require it before long.

    Just like the laser printer, photocopier, and likely even a heavily utilised inkjet printer, your 3d printer (all types) should be in a filtered fume hood, not gunna happen..

    Most processes using polymers gas off volatile's (many are fairly hazardous or irritating), with fine powders in the mix it may not help that most people have stopped smoking, we (homo technologicus) have just replaced one "habit" for another..

    I think only recently did a patent expire that said it was proprietary to fully enclose a commercial 3D FDM printer. Hence why most hobby 3D printers for sale up until recently had to have open sides? Very little chance of HEPA filter working unless build chamber is completely enclosed. I 3D printed a hood with two fans for our work printer to suck ABS fumes into the ceiling space. it worked too well and chilled the build platform down with the airflow and warped prints in the process. You would need to recycle the air in the build chamber to keep it warm or have very low power fans that probably couldn't work....

      I print in the shed and monitor the print via a baby-cam thingo.

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