3D printers have gained momentum in the marketplace for manufacturing and prototyping in environments, industrial, educational, health care, and consumers. There are conventional hazard factors for the use of manufacturing processes with 3D printers, this technology presents a human health issue from the possible release of compounds and irritants into the atmosphere during operation. All these pollutant releases may impact the indoor atmosphere and expose people to sudden pollutants resulting in adverse acute and chronic health concerns. Scientific studies have been done to describe and evaluate this possible health threat and to develop control strategies for occupational and consumer environments.
Within the past several years numerous studies, for example one report by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), have tried to determine health risks related to operating 3D printers. All studies agree with one thing: The potential for health threats is real.
Considering that 3D printing procedures involve sintering, melting, and high temperatures, it is very likely that various pollutants are emitted by them. Most desktop 3D printers utilize a procedure called molten plastic deposition or fused deposition modeling (FDM). This dropped through the nozzle onto the print bed and entails a filament. Research has demonstrated that having a 3D printer may have a health effect. Past studies have demonstrated that gases and particles can be emitted during industrial networked processing; which decomposition products from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermal processing may have hazardous effects in mice and rats; and also exposure to ultrafine particles (UFPs) from different sources are linked to various adverse health effects.
To be able to understand the impact of exposures we must understand basic lung physiology. Particles inhaled as they’re suspended in moving air through the pulmonary system follow airflow. It encounters bends and bifurcations as air passes through the system. Bigger particles have momentum and so withstand changes in flow management, such as at bifurcations, and attempt to continue in a direct line. Particles, with less momentum, are more able to adhere to these streamlines. This dichotomy results in larger particles being swept from the air flow. As air penetrates more deeply into the lung, its circulation diminishes and removal procedures between diffusion become more significant. These deeply penetrating particles are in the size of about 50-1000 nm in diameter. According to work done by Weber’s group at Georgia Institute of Technology, 3D printers emit particles primarily in the size range of 50-700 nm.
The researchers in Seoul National University analyzed thermoplastic materials under different temperatures. Overall, specific VOCs emissions were a function of filament composition and filament brand. Of the tested filaments, nylon and high-impact polycarbonate had the best nanoparticle emission rates.
The researchers from Seoul National University analyzed eight methods for controlling pollution from the printers using varying combinations of fans, filters, and enclosures. The most effective approach eradicated 99.95 percentage of pollution, and involved enclosing the printer and installing a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.