- More desktop 3D printers mean more questions about the chemicals and particulates they release
- First voluntary emissions standards expected this fall
Desktop 3D printers’ popularity and sales have soared in recent years with consumers in homes, schools, and libraries snapping up the new technology. The increasing popularity of the printers are raising new health, safety, and liability questions. These include questions about the potential health effects of the chemicals and particulates they release. Concerns range from the exacerbation of existing conditions like asthma to respiratory irritation to long-term effects like cancer.
In the hours it can take to print a toy, belt clip, or door stop, a 3D printer can release hundreds of chemicals known to be harmful, said Marilyn Black, vice president and senior technical adviser for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., a global independent safety science company.
Black, of UL, said the standards that apply to desktop printers will be based on particulate and chemical emissions research carried out by Emory University and Georgia Tech.
So far, research at Emory suggests that the toxicity of 3D printer emissions is primarily driven by the quantity of particles, not the specific chemicals that may be part of the particles, Weber said. The particulate emissions are a concern because the particles are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lung, Barry Ryan, an environmental health professor at Emory, said. As for the specific types of chemicals involved, Black said emissions can include styrene and formaldehyde, which increase the potential risk of cancer, and the respiratory irritant methyl methacrylate.
Key points made in the article by Occupational Safety and Health Practitioner Monona Rossol:
- “People think someone tests these things before [they are] sold,” said Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist with Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, a nonprofit organization in New York that provides health, safety and other services to art schools, museums, and theaters.
- Rossol expressed skepticism that the new UL standards, which Black said will be updated as science and technologies evolve, can keep pace with the rapidly changing 3D printing world.
- As soon as UL issues standards addressing certain filaments, for example, Rossol said, the manufacturers will change the chemicals in them.
- “You can’t keep up,” said Rossol, whose advice to clients will remain the same regardless of the new standards: “ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.”
Read more about emerging safety standards in the realm of 3D printing at Bloomberg Environment