A new study, called Ultrafine Particle Emissions from Desktop 3D Printers, suggests that desktop 3D printers produce more hazardous ultra-fine particles than previously thought. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers using PLA and ABS plastic are classed as “high emitters” of Ultrafine Particles (UFPs).
There has been a massive increase in the popularity of FDM printers in the last few years and most are sold as standalone printers to be used in the home or office. The problem with this is that they are not provided with any fume extraction devices, unlike professional level machines.
UFPs are particles that are less than 100 nanometres (nm) in size, which is smaller than the size of particle that is blocked by a surgical mask. The effects of UFPs on humans are not fully known, but they do have the ability to be absorbed into the bloodstream through lung tissue.
“For comparison, our estimate of the total UFP emission rate for a single PLA-based 3D printer (1.9-2.0×1010 #/min) was similar to that reported during cooking with an electric frying pan (1.1-2.7×1010 #/min). The same 3D printer utilizing a higher temperature ABS feedstock had an emission rate estimate (1.8-2.0×1011 #/min) similar to that reported during grilling food on gas or electric stoves at low power (1.2-2.9×1011 #/min).”
The experiment was conducted at the offices of the “3D Printer Experience” in Chicago where the air was measured by a nanoparticle size with 5 printers (3 printing with ABS and 2 with PLA). There was no analysis of the chemical constituents of the emissions from any of the 3D printers, and no analysis of the filaments used so there could also be differences in the chemical compositions of PLA and ABS.
The report’s authors conclude that caution should be taken when using desktop 3D printers in a poorly ventilated area, which seems like sensible advice.