3D printers may present potential health risks

Research shows printers generate more than 200 different volatile organic compounds

Posted January 10, 2019

Following an in-depth, two-year research period with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Chemical Safety found that many desktop 3D printers generate ultrafine particles (UFPs) while in operation. UFPs may pose a health concern since they are the size of nanoparticles and may be inhaled and penetrate deep into the human pulmonary system.

The research also revealed that more than 200 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which are known or suspected irritants and carcinogens, are also released while 3D printers are in operation.

Many factors, including nozzle temperature, filament type, filament and printer brand, and filament color, affect emissions while extrusion temperature, filament material, and filament brand were found to have the greatest impact on emission levels. However, there is currently little marketplace information available to help users choose safer options.

The findings come at a time when this low-cost, compact, and user-friendly emerging technology is increasingly gaining momentum in consumer, commercial, medical, and educational settings.

Researchers say the potential risks can be lessened by:

  • Operating 3D printers only in well-ventilated areas
  • Setting the nozzle temperature at the lower end of the suggested temperature range for filament materials
  • Standing away from operating machines
  • Using machines and filaments that have been tested and verified to have low emissions.

Based on the scientific research conducted with Georgia Tech and further collaboration with third-party stakeholders, a UL/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) consensus standard for testing and evaluating 3D printer emissions has been developed.


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