Desktop 3D printers

Researchers warn against health effects of desktop 3D printing

The Dublin City University researchers have found that the systems can release emissions into the air that could be detrimental to human health, and have urged people to take additional measures when using 3D printers at home

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Health guidelines are often late to the party when it comes to the use of new technologies, especially when these technologies are exciting and easily accessible to the general public. At-home desktop 3D printing, with millions of systems already sold around the world, is no outlier. According to an article published in the Irish Independent, researchers from Dublin City University have found that the systems can release emissions into the air that could be detrimental to human health. The researchers have urged people to take additional measures when using 3D printers at home to combat the impact of emissions that can persist in the lungs.

The original research paper, titled ‘Characterization of Volatile and Particulate Emissions from Desktop 3D Printers’ can be found here.

“We were interested in indoor air pollution and what type of emissions are being released into the air that we breathe. We live 90% of our lives indoors,” said Dr. Aoife Morrin, from Dublin City University, who worked on the research with Dr. Melissa Finnegan and Colleen Lee Thach from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. “We decided to look at the amount of emissions that consumer devices like 3D printers were releasing into the home environment. A lot of these devices are placed in the home and are Christmas presents and birthday presents for younger people who have very little awareness of the health and safety implications of these types of technologies.”

She said the team looked at both the particulates and the gases that are emitted from the device. “Particulates are very, very small ­pieces of plastic essentially that are being produced by the printer when it is printing and emitted into the indoor air,” said Dr. Morrin. “These particulates are very fine, small, and when we inhale them into our noses, they persist in our lungs. The smaller these particles are, the deeper into our lungs they go, and can be very detrimental to health… We also looked at what type of gas products were emitted from the process of 3D printing because again, gases are inhaled into the body and some of them can be potentially carcinogenic, for example.”

The findings apply to all 3D printers “whether it’s a high-end printer making medical devices or it’s a printer in a home making Christmas decorations.” Although some industrial systems are air-tight and are subject to more stringent particle control – due to health and safety regulations – that desktop 3D printers are not. “In an industry setting, there will be enclosures, ventilators in the room, and the emissions will be monitored,” said Dr. Morrin. “When we bring them into the home – these printers cost about €200 or so – and these come without any of that enclosure, ventilation, and are typically operated in less ventilated environments. The best thing you have is a window which may or may not be open.”

The researchers stated that they are “not trying to turn people off 3D printing,” but that awareness is crucial as people operate this same technology in two very different environments. Measures such as opening windows or wearing an appropriate mask (not the typical blue ones used during the pandemic) can provide some form of protection against 3D printer emissions in the home.

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17 Comments

  1. For those saying the article isn’t vague, it’s entire purpose was to condense useful info out of the long and scientifically written research paper, and yet they failed to detail any factors, like material and print method that play HUGE roles in how much dust and gas will be given off.

  2. Thank you for drawing our attention to the health risks of this relatively new industry. As an occupational health epidemiologist (a scientist with only a little understanding about the 3D printing industry, but having used one), I have an interest in all things related to exposures and health. Several reviews have been published in the scientific literature about the health effects of emissions from 3D printing, warning (especially) home users about the potential hazards. In a 2022 paper published in the International Journal of Occupational Health and Safety, the authors state: “This paper evaluated the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and nanoparticle emissions during 3D printing with the most common Poly-Lactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) materials. During printing, an increase of VOCs and nanoparticles was observed. This increase was more significant during printing with ABS filaments than during printing with PLA filaments. The nanoparticles size emitted for the ABS filament was smaller than the particles emitted for the PLA filament. A carcinogen substance like benzene was found during printing. The pollutants levels observed may cause health problems, and it is recommended that printing be avoided without engineering controls in place, e.g. a good ventilation and extraction system.” The paper can be read in detail at https://journalengineering.fe.up.pt/index.php/ijooes/article/view/2184-0954_006-001_0003. An basic search on Google Scholar (https://scholar.google.com/) will reveal more research on this topic.

  3. Material makes a big difference, as does tempurature, run time, room design/layout, etc.

    Obviously, sticking your face right into the printer as its going and using carbon fiber nylon would be far more detrimental than running pla in a larger room. Likewise, abs and asa would be more toxic in a closed room than petg i would imagine (not a scientist)

    My speculation is that the duration most people print for, along with how most homes would be set up, the risk is trivial. Id be curious how much “small” or “fine” particulate we breathe in just by being outdoors, in the woods, or in dusty conditions.

  4. Guys he linked the article for you to read but to save you the trouble its ABS and PLA FDM printing and printers release less vocs then an IKEA end table and aboit as much micro platic particles and running a coffee cup over the top of said table.

    Basically authors got caught in the hype of “yOUr 3D pRInTeR iS kiLLing yUo” and wrote a paper about it.

    Ventalate your work space, follow the safety rccomendations and you will be fine.

  5. To all those saying the article is vague, read the reference paper lazy – “This study aims to assess the safety aspects of 3D printing of PLA and ABS filaments”

  6. The aim of this article was to raise awareness for those who value the quality of their health. The point of the writing is clear – ensure that you have adequate ventilation and PPE when operating the machines. It is common sense that materials, heat, and closed spaces do not collectively equate to optimal human health. One does not need an entire research paper to understand this, but for those that do, it can be found here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38139506.

  7. Oh please. You know how much 3d printing you need to do to make it matter? On multiple printers no less

    1. How would we know, without any cited and verifiable data. Agree with the general consensus, this article is worse than useless, it is a waste of time.

  8. There are a lot of different filaments that can be run, some release more than others. This article didn’t specify any of that.
    What did they find? How many PPM did they observe? What quantity of what gases did they observe? This article is trash. I’ll paraphrase what I got out of it- some people tested some stuff and they think it’s bad, the end.

  9. There is almost no actual information in this article? Gases from what types of filaments can be potentially carcinogenic? We know that there is a possibility, though not a certainty, that ABS fumes could be carcinogenic. What problems, specifically, can the small plastic particulates cause? How do we take preventive measures? You mention masks and enclosures, but don’t explain to people what constitutes an enclosure or that when you say “mask” you mean a respirator or what sorts of filter cartridges you would need for said respirator. Raising awareness of this sort of thing is important, but if you don’t provide solutions you’ll just be causing panic in people who don’t already know the solutions.

  10. No mention of printer type, type of filament, or any helpful information. Assuming FDM printing, ABS, for example, is a popular filament known to produce harmful gasses while printing. PLA is another filament that is generally regarded as safe. Industrial printers all use wildly different technologies that are difficult to generalize. Are you lumping everything together? Do I need to ignore this article or take action? I have no idea

  11. This article doesn’t clarify if this study was of resin or filament printers, or both. Without this information the article is both too vague and fear mongering.

  12. They failed to mention what type of 3d printing, resin or fdm. And what types of plastics are being extruded or cured. Seems like there is very little research behind this word salad presented as fact.

  13. That was rather useless. It did not address type of- or perhaps I should say material, as type of additive method was not even addressed- or whether the carbon filtration of, say, an X1C provides reasonable mitigation of airborne particulates or other emissions.

    1. This piece was not meant to be an in-depth analysis of how 3d printing is detrimental to health. This is meant to bring awareness to the general public.

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