Warning Signs in New 3D Printing Findings

"Following our series of studies – the most extensive to date on 3D printer emissions – we are recommending additional investments in scientific research and product advancement to minimize emissions and increased user awareness so safety measures can be taken," said Marilyn Black, vice president and senior technical adviser at UL.

UL Chemical Safety and the Georgia Institute of Technology recently announced a body of research that explored the impact of 3D printing on indoor air quality. Following an in-depth, two-year research period with Georgia Tech, UL Chemical Safety found that many desktop 3D printers generate ultrafine particles while in operation, which may be 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 more than 200 different volatile organic compounds, many of which are known or suspected irritants and carcinogens, are released while 3D printers are in operation.

"Following our series of studies – the most extensive to date on 3D printer emissions – we are recommending additional investments in scientific research and product advancement to minimize emissions and increased user awareness so safety measures can be taken," said Marilyn Black, vice president and senior technical adviser at UL.

She recommends carrying out a complete risk assessment that factors in dose and personal sensitivity considerations. 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 most impact on emission levels. Currently there is little marketplace information available to help users choose safer options, according to the organizations.

"Studies have shown that fused filament fabrication 3D printers designed for general public use emit high levels of ultrafine and fine particles," said Dr. Rodney Weber, Georgia Tech's primary investigator of the research. "Preliminary tests with in vivo, in vitro, and acellular methods for particles generated by a limited number of filaments showed adverse responses."

UL's release noted that 3D printing is increasingly gaining momentum in consumer, commercial, medical, and educational settings. As the use of 3D printers in schools has become prolific, it said, special care should be taken to minimize exposure of emissions to children. 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 consensus standard for testing and evaluating 3D printer emissions has been developed. UL/ANSI 2904 is now available for review and comment, and the final standard is expected to be ready in December 2018.

To find out more about UL Chemical Safety and its 3D printing initiative, visit www.ulchemicalsafety.org.

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