Home 3D printers – particularly FDM, Makerbot-like devices – are still in their infancy and, as such, are untested when it comes to safety. That’s why some researchers at the Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology decided to test a popular model for ultrafine particle emissions, a measure of how much junk these things emit while in use.
The result? PLA, a starch-based material, emitted 20 billion particles per minute while ABS, a plastic, emitted 200 billion. This is similar in scale to using a gas stove, lighting a cigarette, or burning a scented candle. In short, it’s a significant bit of potential pollution in an unfiltered environment but it’s nothing we don’t do to ourselves on a daily basis already.
The study didn’t take into account what materials were being expelled, which makes it a bit more troubling. For example, according to PhysOrg, ABS is known to be toxic in lab rats but PLA, oddly enough, is used in nanotechnology for the delivery of medicines.
What’s the takeaway? Ventilate your 3D printer.
Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. Additionally, these results suggest that more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate particle emissions from a wider arrange of desktop 3D printers.
Obviously these devices are designed for home and office use and probably will never end up under a lab-grade ventilation hood. However, given the various processes used to make 3D objects, it’s important that this research is done to reduce the effects of UFPs on children who may be using these in schools as well as the teachers, designers, and makers who use them on a daily basis.
You can read the entire paper here or just turn on a fan.