Every once in a while the question is raised: is working with desktop 3D printers safe for our health? Are any volatile, harmful chemicals released during the heating process of thermoplastics? With the increase in the popularity of additive technologies, scientists are undertaking more and more projects aimed at determining whether and to what extent working with 3D printers can be harmful. The research results presented so far did not dispel all doubts and left quite a lot of room for interpretation.

A year ago chemists from the Georgia Institute of Technology presented the results of their work in which they prove that 3D printers emit both harmful, volatile organic compounds and nano-sized particles that can enter our lungs when breathing. Do you have to worry about that?

In fact, the amount of emitted substances is closely related to a number of different factors – from the material or adhesive used, to the operating conditions of the device (does the device work in a properly ventilated interior). More than five years ago, scientists knew that standard desktop 3D printers working in FDM technology emit UFP (ultrafine particles). However, in 2016 they were able to determine which of them are distinguished by the relatively highest harmfulness – when it comes to toxic compounds, we are talking mainly about styrenes derived from ABS and HIPS, but their volume was not significant enough that they could significantly affect state of human health.

Let’s return to the research of scientists from UL Chemical Safety and the Georgia Institute of Technology – in their project they created 52 combinations of 3D printers, materials of different brands of different colors, using different process parameters. Their first conclusion was the fact that each of these factors has an impact on the emission of harmful compounds – PLA has a stable emission regardless of the color or extrusion temperature, but in the case of ABS fluctuations of secreted compounds were difficult to predict. They also noticed that as the temperature increased, the emission of volatile compounds from ABS was increasing – the high level of secreted compounds was also the domain of the cheapest devices in the list.

It seems that in the world of ubiquitous smog and air pollution, working with 3D printers is not particularly harmful – observing a few simple rules, the use of additive devices working in FDM technology will be safe. It is worth ensuring adequate ventilation of the room where the 3D printers are located, choosing high-quality filaments, observing the temperature ranges proposed by the manufacturer.

Magdalena Przychodniak
Editor-in-Chief of the 3D Printing Center. A biomedical engineer following the latest reports on bioprinting and 3D printing in modern medicine.

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