1 of 2
2 of 2
If you pay a visit to any 3D printing bureau you’ll find their industrial printers tend to have ventilation shafts and the people operating the machines often wear protective masks and clean/finish the products like Homer Simpson handles nuclear bars. At home most 3D printers sit on our desks churning away without any thought to what emissions they may be kicking out.
The report discovers that the most popular 3D printers using ABS and PLA are classed as “high emitters” of Ultrafine Particles, aka. UFPs. UFPs are defined as particles less than 100 nanometres (nm), to give you an idea of the size we’re talking about, 100nm is the greatest particle size that can fit through a surgical mask, anything less than that will pass through a mask.
The effects of UFPs on the human body are not fully understood though it is known that unlike other airborne particles such as pollen and dust UFPs, are deposited in the lungs, where they have the ability to penetrate tissue and to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream, the effects have been linked to lung disease.
The experiment took place at an office at the recently opened Chicago-based 3D Printer Experience, the air was measured by a nanoparticle sizer with five printers (3 ABS and 2 PLA) running and the total number of UFPs rose significantly, as you can see in figure one, when all the printers were running.
These frightening looking statistics do need to be placed in comparison to other emissions in order to understand what you are being faced with. The important comparison section in the reports reads as follows, “For comparison, our estimate of the total UFP emission rate for a single PLA-based 3D printer (1.9-2.0×1010 #/min) was similar to that reported during cooking with an electric frying pan (1.1-2.7×1010 #/min). The same 3D printer utilizing a higher temperature ABS feedstock had an emission rate estimate (1.8-2.0×1011 #/min) similar to that reported during grilling food on gas or electric stoves at low power (1.2-2.9×1011 #/min). As Joris says in his blog do we know that inhaling the fumes and particles from a BBQ are potentially hazardous? Yes. Does it stop us? No. Though Joris does say that he'd recommend that "you use a 3D printer in a fume hood or behind a HEPA filter."
It is not only the UFPs that could potentially cause damage either; melting these thermoplastics has proved in a previous study to release noxious fumes such as hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide. The fumes in previous experiments have shown to have toxic effects in both rats and mice. If you can smell the plastic burning you are probably breathing it in. Although the amounts may be small heeding Joris' advice certainly wouldn't do anyone any harm.
Personalize don’t want to go all Daily Mail on you and terrify you into not using your printer; these UFPs are no uncommon they can also be emitted from general office equipment such as copiers, fax machines, laser printers and even from peeling citrus fruits. However what we would say is, make sure you are using your printer in a well-ventilated room and that you're not inhaling too many fumes. The conclusion of the research states that there needs to be further research so we can get to the bottom of whether this does or does not harm our health.