Study: 3D printing may be harmful to humans

Several new studies found that 3D printers emit toxic particles that may be harmful to humans.

Female College Student Studying Engineering Using 3D Printing Machine

The studies, presented at the 2020 Society for Risk Analysis virtual Annual Meeting on December 15, showed that the particles released during the printing process can affect indoor air quality and public health.

For the uninitiated, 3D printers typically work by melting plastic filaments or other base materials such as nanoparticles, metals, thermoplastics etc. and then stacking the melted materials layer upon layer to form an object. When the plastic or other base materials are heated to melt they release volatile compounds into the air near the printer and the object.

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EPA looks at 3D Printing emissions

The EPA is examining possible adverse effects of emissions on human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is increasing its scrutiny of 3D printing emissions just as recent predictions say the technology is just beginning to revolutionize manufacturing and the supply chain.

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Working in cooperation with the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), EPA is studying possible harmful emissions that are emitted during the 3D printing process. Also conducting research on 3D printer nanomaterials is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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How emissions from 3D printers pose a potential health hazard

The advent of 3D printing allows for an hours-to-days turnaround time for rapid prototyping and production of parts, by bringing manufacturing abilities closer to the engineers designing the parts being produced. The commodity cost of 3D printers, likewise, has led to their inclusion in schools as part of a broader push for STEM education.

However, air quality is likely to suffer as a result—a 3D printer is essentially a miniature manufacturing plant, in form and function, and is often deployed in facilities, such as standard office buildings, not properly equipped for ventilation. Volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations in air increase with the use of 3D printers, with a two-year study by UL and the Georgia Institute of Technology finding 216 individual VOCs released into indoor air through the use of 3D printers.

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3D printing a biological war

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has published a new report, in which it voices concerns over the potential risks of 3D printing if misused.

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The report, titled ‘BIO PLUS X’, discusses concerns over the potential for advancements in 3D printing to contribute towards the creation of biological weapons.

A recent surge in the development of bioprinting, in which cells and tissue are printed, has caused fears over biological warfare. Also known as ‘germ warfare’, the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses have the ability to kill or incapacitate humans, animals, or plants.

Recent advancements in biotechnology has made it faster and cheaper to manipulate the genetic make-up of organisms, from bacteria to humans. The use of 3D printing has also made creating low priced customised equipment and prosthetics possible in the biomedical sector.

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UL publishes 3D printing standard for testing and assessing particle and chemical emissions

UL Chemical Safety has announced the publication of a 3D printing standard which aims to mitigate the risk of indoor air pollution.

ANSI/CAN/UL 2904 ‘Standard Method for Testing and Assessing Particle and Chemical Emissions from 3D Printers’ is now available for use. The standard applies to freestanding 3D printers, typically found in schools, offices, libraries, homes, and other ‘non-industrial’ indoor spaces.

It contains measurement and assessment protocols for the emission of particles and volatile chemicals from diverse 3D printers, print media, and print publications. UL believes it will help to ‘advance the availability of low emission printers and print media for use in the global marketplace’.

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Additive manufacturing and combustible dust hazards in 3D Printing

3D printing processes generate combustible dust, creating a set of risks EHS professionals should take into account.

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Over the last few years we have witnessed the expansion of additive manufacturing using 3D printers from utilization as a prototyping tool to increasing implementation on the plant floor. The rapid evolution of this technology and its applications has created new challenges for process safety. These challenges involve understanding powder combustibility properties and how best to implement reliable inverting measures to prevent fires and explosions during powder processing and handling.

An EHS professional or employee in charge of reviewing and approving use of a 3D printer in their facility should be aware of the hazards associated when it comes to combustible dust.

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Study suggests 3D printers with enclosed chambers and filters can reduce particle emissions

The health impact of 3D printing is often overlooked.  However, that there are health implications cannot be denied – after all, 3D printing involves the use of high temperature and pressure equipment and powdered materials.  This article looks at some of the work on managing the risks.

Researchers from the Built Environment Research Group, operating out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, have been testing desktop 3D printers for VOC and other particle emissions. The research has involved testing various commercial desktop 3D printers, such as the UP BOX+ 3D printer, to see whether features like an enclosed chamber and HEPA filter efficiently reduce UFP and VOC emissions, which can be harmful to one’s health.

The results of the study, which were recently published in a report titled “Enclosure performance: Ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) removal efficiency of desktop 3D printer enclosures,” show that the UP BOX+ adequately reduced emissions and particles. The printer’s enclosed chamber allowed for a 74% reduction in UFP emissions, and the HEPA filter system upped that percentage to 91%.

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