Nov 4, 2015 | By Benedict

A study carried out by researchers at the University of California, Riverside has revealed unsettling facts about the toxicity of certain 3D printed objects. The researchers used zebrafish embryos to test the toxicity of the 3D printed objects, and found that the embryos died at alarming rates when exposed to some of the tested materials.

The results of the study have raised questions about the environmental impact of 3D printing, with particular concern raised about the disposal of 3D printed materials. “These 3D printers are like tiny factories in a box,” said William Grover, an assistant professor of bioengineering in the Bourns College of Engineering. “We regulate factories. We would never bring one into our home. Yet, we are starting to bring these 3D printers into our homes like they are toasters.”

The study undertaken at Riverside used two 3D printers in order to test the toxicity of two types of 3D printed material. The team performed their tests using a Dimension Elite, a FDM 3D printer made by Stratasys, and a Form 1+ stereolithography printer by Formlabs, which prints with liquid resin. Although the findings of the study are not damaging to either of these brands specifically, the results are certainly concerning for the 3D printing industry as a whole. Whilst parts made by both 3D printers were measurably toxic to the zebrafish embryos, the Form 1+ and its 3D printed resin parts produced far worse effects than the Dimension Elite and its plastic parts.

Dimension Elite 3D printer

Form 1+ 3D printer

The research came about partially by accident. After Grover bought a 3D printer for his lab, graduate student Shirin Mesbah Oskui asked to use the machine for her own research. However, when Oskui tried to use the 3D printer to develop tools for studying zebrafish embryos, she noticed that the embryos died quickly after exposure to 3D printed parts. Oskui reported these disturbing occurrences to Grover, and the pair decided to investigate the matter by testing the toxicity of 3D printed objects made using the two aforementioned 3D printers.

Oskui printed a number of disc-shaped parts, each roughly an inch in diameter, using both 3D printers. These discs were placed in petri dishes with the luckless zebrafish embryos. The graduate student then studied the survival rates and hatch rates of the embryos, whilst keeping an eye out for developmental abnormalities.

The embryos exposed to parts from the plastic-melting 3D printer had slightly decreased average survival rates compared to control embryos, causing some worry about the harm of plastic 3D printing. However, the biggest concern was generated by the 3D printed parts made with liquid resin. Embryos exposed to parts from the liquid resin 3D printer had significantly decreased survival rates, with more than half of the embryos dead by the third day and all dead by the seventh. Of the few zebrafish embryos that hatched after exposure to 3D printed parts from the liquid resin 3D printer, 100 percent of the hatchlings showed developmental abnormalities.

Far from simply pointing the finger at the additive manufacturing industry, the researchers also developed their own method for reducing the toxicity of the 3D printed parts made by the Form 1+ liquid resin 3D printer. A simple post-printing treatment using ultraviolet light was used to successfully reduce the toxicity of the resin-based 3D printed parts from the Form 1+. Oskui found that, after exposing the 3D printed parts to ultraviolet light for one hour, they became significantly less toxic to the zebrafish embryos. This curious discovery has led The UC Riverside Office of Technology Commercialization to file a patent for the researchers’ work.

The pair’s full findings are laid out in a paper, Assessing and Reducing the Toxicity of 3D-Printed Parts,” which was published online today in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. As well as Oskui and Grover, the paper was authored by Jay Gan and Daniel Schlenk, professors in the Department of Environmental Sciences; Graciel Diamante, a graduate student of Schlenk’s; and Chunyang Liao and Wei Shi, who work in Gan’s lab.

The researchers hope that their findings will lead to a more serious investigation into the negative environmental effects of 3D printed materials. They plan to "further study the toxicity of the components of the 3D printer material both individually and when mixed together in a completed part. They also want to find out at what level the material could be harmful to humans."

“Many people, including myself, are excited about 3D printing,” Grover said. “But we really need to take a step back and ask: ‘how safe are these materials?’”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Visitor wrote at 12/21/2016 12:50:12 PM:

As far as I know the dimension prints in ABS.....haven't used one in years maybe that has changed (expanded to new materials)

Eyeroll wrote at 1/28/2016 8:36:42 PM:

"This curious discovery has led The UC Riverside Office of Technology Commercialization to file a patent for the researchers’ work." Sounds like the beginnings of patent trolling to me. Even if this patent has no chance, is this seriously the state of our public academia after a "discovery"? Lets just further hold back DIYs that might want to start a business (think etsy, thingaverse, etc.) off of their ideas because patents such as the laser sintering ones weren't enough, which set back the desktop 3D printing industry (and one could argue the entire industry) decades btw. And I agree with the above comments, please clarify what polymer they used here because they charge $35 to read the entire journal (again, our new greedy academia ladies and gentlemen) and we all know everyone and their grandma don't care to go past the first page of Google search results for their "facts".

Shalom Ormsby wrote at 11/5/2015 10:53:49 PM:

It makes no sense that they're trying to patent the UV post-cure. This is far from novel. In fact, virtually everyone who has experience SLA / DLP printing knows about and does this.

sonic wrote at 11/5/2015 10:25:31 PM:

Probably the most glaringly horrible oversight here is (other than those pointed out by several other commenters on the industry-wide standard of uv post-curing)...what was the control? You can't very well hypothesize that 3D printing plastics makes them more toxic if you aren't also using a control of the same plastic that was traditionally manufactured. We all know uncured UV Resins are toxic to marine life, so this is hardly news, but it seems silly to state that the plastic "changed" by the 3D process from a Stratasys machine if you didn't also use, say an injection molded plastic of the same variety.

sgraber wrote at 11/5/2015 4:36:02 PM:

@anymouse: EXACTLY. Post-curing is a *common* procedure and dates back all the way to the late 80's / early 90's. There's also plenty of toxicity / sensitivity information on the SDS and had the researchers read the SDS they would have seen this. There is ABSOLUTELY no way this is patentable and there's a LOT of prior art on this common practice.

Dazed and Confused wrote at 11/5/2015 3:52:47 PM:

I've been using UV cured resins for a while and it seems to me its common knowledge exactly how toxic these materials are. Which is why we built a UV curing system and always cure the parts for an extended period of time out of the Form1+ printer. The fact you use two huge tubs of IPA in the finishing process should be the first red flag that this is not a toaster. The second is that the UV cured resin has warnings all over the bottle that its extremely toxic. I hope the paper explains in more detail the filament printer materials...

Hugo wrote at 11/5/2015 10:09:04 AM:

Good that there is this kind of coverage of the disadvantages of 3d printing as well. MaKen the site feel more serious and reliable.

Curious about 3d wrote at 11/5/2015 7:33:31 AM:

Materials printed with PLA filament are eco friendly..

anymouse wrote at 11/5/2015 5:36:41 AM:

If one were to have read the manual or the MSDS this would have been avoided, and with the amount of prior art theres no way this is patentable. You have to post cure an SLA print to increase both strength and deactivate the leftover Photoiniator which are usually toxic to aquatic life.

KAT wrote at 11/5/2015 4:38:45 AM:

For the FDM tests, did they use ABS, PLA, or something else? I'm sure there is a difference, kind of an important oversight...

mr. burns wrote at 11/5/2015 1:34:41 AM:

Tell the researchers not to waste any time filing a patent; I work at a prominent printing facility and we post cure every single 3D RESIN part in a UV CURING OVEN for at least 15 minutes. Otherwise uncured resin can remain on the parts. 3D printing resin is highly toxic pre-cure, containing anitmony (carcinogen) or acrylics, or other. Post-curing is a practice already widely spread in industry, and the researchers should check up on what is actually happening out there already.

Dave Wise wrote at 11/5/2015 1:24:36 AM:

What type of filament did they use?

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