Aug 2, 2017 | By David

With the decreasing price and improved quality of desktop machines, 3D printers are becoming more and more common in all kinds of locations, from laboratories to people’s homes. As great as this may be for the future of design and manufacturing, there could still be some hidden dangers that are being overlooked. A recent study entitled Is 3D Printing Safe? published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) suggests that many common 3D printing materials can emit harmful organic compounds during the process, which may lead to a range of different symptoms.

According to a news release published by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) about the study, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and nylon all give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when they are printed, even below normal printing temperature. Thermogravimetric analysis of FDM 3D printing showed that heating these filaments caused organic vapours to be released, and the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the VOC microparticles contained in these vapors could lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea.

Tests showed that ABS filament was the worst offender, with its calculated total emissions reaching 0.50 µmol per hour of printing. This is 35 percent greater than PLA. 30 percent of ABS’ total VOC consisted of styrene, whereas Methyl methacrylate was detected as the predominant compound emitted by PLA.

The study recommended filtration and good ventilation as being the key to limiting the potential health hazards of 3D printing. Besides making sure printing takes place in a large, airy room, one other option would be the use of HEPA filters: ‘’In order to minimalize the negative effect of emitted particles and VOCs on user's health, it is highly recommended to install special filters inside 3D printers. Some particles (size bigger than 0.3 µm) can be removed by HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) filters. However, as reported in the literature, particles emitted during printing process are significantly smaller (10–116 nm) and thus HEPA filters seem to be ineffective.’’

“Businesses, government agencies, universities and other institutions that use 3D printers need to be aware that this technology could expose people to respiratory problems if the proper safety precautions and engineering controls are not in place,” said David Roskelley, Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and Chair of American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH). “We encourage those using 3D printers to read the JOEH study and implement appropriate filtration and ventilation procedures to protect workers, students and the public from potential harm.”

There are photocatalytic filters available, which make use of ultraviolet light to reduce exposure to certain compounds. They use Titanium dioxide, zinc sulphide, tungsten oxide, copper oxides, or zinc oxide to absorb photons. This transfers the energy of light into excited charge carriers. They can then initiate and stimulate redox reactions occurring at the photocatalyst surface, e.g., the degradation of adsorbed organic and inorganic compounds to small safe molecules, such as H2O and CO2.

Several companies have carried out similar safety studies and started to make progress in this field already. Patents have been filed for photocatalytic materials and filters that are specifically designed for 3D printing. Last year saw the release of the Accura Genius 3D, which was the first FDM 3D printer to come with an integrated photocatalytic filter.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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