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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More testing shows that 3D printer emissions are still problematic

3D printing, for all of its multitudes of benefits, also comes with some risks, which include the emission of ultrafine particles and gaseous pollutants. In a paper entitled “Characterization of particulate and gaseous pollutants emitted during operation of a desktop 3D printer,” a team of researchers tests eight different kinds of 3D printer filament for ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds. All experiments were carried out on a ZortraxM200 3D printer, which has a single extruder, single heated plate, and sidewalls but no cover on the top. They tested ABS, ULTRAT, ASA, HIPS, PETG, GLASS (PETG mixed with fiber glass filings), PCABS and ESD.

The researchers 3D printed a small model that has been proposed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). It consists of a square base and several small structures on the top and one side wall. The 3D printing was carried out in a stainless steel chamber with air set to 50% relative humidity and 23ºC. Air samples were taken to determine the chamber’s background concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and very volatile organic compounds (VVOCs). The 3D printer was loaded into the chamber, and samples were taken again one hour after loading.

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Danger to users & targets of 3D-printed guns

Guns and weaponry are a hot topic for debate among many. Whether it be tragic school shootings or other senseless violence, gun use has divided our country. There are those who question, “How do people get ahold of these weapons?” or “Were they licensed to carry?” and even, “Did they get a background check before they purchased the weapon?” Fear continues to spread as the implementation of 3D weaponry becomes more readily available.

Image Source: AP Eric Gay

In 2018, the government was faced with the issue of whether or not 3D printing guns was lawful. There would be no paperwork to track the weapons, nor background checks for those printing the guns. 3D-printed firearms that are virtually untraceable with no serial numbers are most widely referred to as ‘Ghost Guns.’

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