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Build Technology

Desktop 3D Printers Shown To Emit Hazardous Gases and Particles (acs.org) 96

An anonymous reader writes: A new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology by researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology and The University of Texas at Austin sheds more light on potentially harmful emissions from desktop FDM 3D printers. The researchers measured emissions of both ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from 5 commercially available polymer-extrusion 3D printers using up to 9 different filaments. [The researchers] found that the individual VOCs emitted in the largest quantities included caprolactam from nylon-based and imitation wood and brick filaments (ranging from ~2 to ~180 g/min), styrene from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) filaments (ranging from ~10 to ~110 g/min), and lactide from polylactic acid (PLA) filaments (ranging from ~4 to ~5 g/min). Styrene is classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC classification group 2B). While caprolactam is classified as "probably not carcinogenic to humans," the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) maintains low acute, 8-hour, and chronic reference exposure levels (RELs) of only 50, 7, and 2.2 g per cubic meters, respectively, all of which would likely be exceeded with just one of the higher emitting printers operating in a small office.
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Desktop 3D Printers Shown To Emit Hazardous Gases and Particles

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  • Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BoberFett ( 127537 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:33PM (#51393007)

    Ummmm, duh? You're melting plastics in order to reform them into another shape. It doesn't take a study to realize you shouldn't stick your face in and breathe deeply.

    • Don't Worry (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @11:11PM (#51393353) Journal
      Apparently one of the gases is "probably not carcinogenic" and the other is only classed as a "possible human carcinogen" so really the title should read "Desktop 3D Printers Shown to Emit Gases some of which might be hazardous". Not to mention that if the safe exposure level is 50g/m^3 that's almost 5% by weight of air so either someone messed up the units or one of the gases emitted are safer than carbon dioxide and nobody suggests that we ban candles.
      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @01:04AM (#51393965)

        Besides, if you do happen to get cancer, you can just 3D print yourself a replacement organ.

        • How many types of gases are emitted in a car factory?
          • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

            a lot.
            and its covered by OSHA regulations regarding exposure limits, required PPE, etc, as well as protection from the union should a company try to skirt any of those.
            all gained from hard experience.

            now, what was the point of your straw man?

            • Point? Well, for the unwashed, it's impressive that 3D Printing is being compared to mature industries. Given that 3D printing is today what micro computers were in 1978. And as production problems are discovered, and resolved; much like other mature industries, this issue will be resolved. Besides, who wants a stinking machine in their home? Which completes with mature industries.

              Consider a future of 3D printing where there will be a Desktop version in ones SOHO office. A Counter-Top version in the kitch
      • Re:Don't Worry (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @07:01AM (#51394973)

        Apparently one of the gases is "probably not carcinogenic" and the other is only classed as a "possible human carcinogen" so really the title should read "Desktop 3D Printers Shown to Emit Gases some of which might be hazardous". Not to mention that if the safe exposure level is 50g/m^3 that's almost 5% by weight of air so either someone messed up the units or one of the gases emitted are safer than carbon dioxide and nobody suggests that we ban candles.

        The good old "it won't happen to me"? Unfortunately, reality isn't as kind as that, as I'm sure you know. The purpose of this research is not to get 3D printing banned, or even to "discover" that it is hazardous; we already knew that there are hazards connected with working with hot, melted plastic. We just hadn't quantified the hazards well enough, yet. It makes sense to figure this out, so we can make informed decisions about how to mitigate the problem.

        • Still, it does a poor job at quantifying the hazard because even if it gives concentration of the gases, there's no data on how harmful they are.

          • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

            well, that part usually comes after someone says "hey there might be a problem here", not before.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Caprolactam is probably not carcinogenic, but it is most definitely an irritant and somewhat toxic, neither of which are good qualities to have for a gas in your home. Styrene, in addition to being a possible carcinogen, is toxic and mutagenic. In particular, it's toxic to the central nervous system. According to the EPA:

        Acute Effects:

        Acute exposure to styrene in humans results in respiratory effects, such as mucous membrane irritation, eye irritation, and gastrointestinal ef

        • But hey, it's only probable that it'll also give you "leukemia, lymphoma, and other stem, blood, and bone marrow cancers", so let's totally play it down.

          Actually it is only possible, not probable, and as such from a carcinogenic point of view is technically less dangerous than bacon which the WHO classes as "probably carcinogenic". As far as the summary is concerned it is more a case of "let's just mention this slight possibility of cancer and not mention any other of the apparently proven and very serious effects of the gas". If this summary had been written about the dangers of guns it would have probably only have discussed the possibility of lead poiso

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So much this. Candles are immensely dangerous but we still allow them. Smoking too, both in terms of smoking some herbs and smoking food for consumption, char-grilling food, BBQing food, etc.

        Just stick a vacuum in there and vent it elsewhere if you are that paranoid, but a large number of people already consume worse things for their health.

        And the carcinogenic ones are just the start, next up is horrific amounts of (both natural and unnatural) fats, "diet" foods which provably make you gain weight (more

        • by piojo ( 995934 )

          Your statements about dietary fat and "panic-mode" indicate that you don't have your facts in order (since these are topics I've researched). Consequently, your whole post is suspect.

    • Re:Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vlad30 ( 44644 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @11:16PM (#51393377)
      Additionally which models did they test one with or without a case the diagrams suggest a case however most models with cases have fans and filters did they open the case and measure was the filter defective or removed to allow the particles to be measured they talk about the sealed room not a sealed printer in the setup
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Didn't you read the study of course the tested printers are listed and the exact setup is described

        The MakerBot with ABS filament was also tested twice once with the plastic enclosure from the manufacturer installed as received from the factory and once with the enclosure intentionally removed

        punctuation also intentionally removed for your convenience

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @12:01AM (#51393665) Homepage Journal

      whats different with the older study? the new nylon, wood filaments?

      the old study that was at some media quoted as OMG IT KILLS YA actually when covered correctly was titled about "3d printer as hazardous as cooking".

      and well if you cook your peek/teflon parts in the extruder then thats pretty hazardous..

    • by Donwulff ( 27374 )

      Oh, and mandatory SMBC link. [smbc-comics.com]
      Yes, I know it's supposed to be XKCD, but we're working on a budget here...

    • The important thing is that someone is pointing this out. The 3D printers I've worked with (large commercial units) all have fully enclosed ventilated fume hoods. I've always wondered about cheapie open-air ones and the amount of VOCs they'd spread throughout the environment. At least people will now be a bit more aware of the issue.
      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        As I'd expect. The difference between professional units and home units isn't just print quality.

        Manufacturing requires controlled atmospheres. Heck, the thing that most people really want - 3d printed metal - simply can't be conducted in uncontrolled atmospheres at all. You at least have to use shielding gases, and it's very likely going to at least produce ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, etc - never mind any potential outgasing/particulate from the metal (depends on what you're sintering - for

        • Would they just vent all this into the room for hours on end?

          Once China figures out how to make a resistance sintering furnace they can sell on Alibaba for $1,995 then yes, quite probably. And none of this woosy zirconia stuff, they'll use thoria so you can read in the dark while you're working.

        • where I work, yes, they'd just vent it into the office space. That's what they do with the stratasys printers. Actually, there's no "venting" per se. They just sit in the office and emit.

          Sure, these units are sub $100,000 ABS printing units so maybe the really high end stuff is vented. But the comments here about "cheapo bad, expensive good" come off more as astroturfing for/by stratasys and 3d systems than reality.

      • the stratasys units i'm familiar with aren't vented and, even though no one seems to want to admit to the toxicity of the fumes, forced their relocation and time usage on to people who had no clout. In other words, even without evidence (like presented in this study) as to toxicity, the fumes are so noxious that the printers were moved.

        Interestingly, this study affirms a previous study that printing with PLA is little different than other common environmental factors (e.g., cooking) with the dangerous mater

    • I warned my state's Minister for Health about this issue last year and the reply was dismissive of my concerns about how 3D printers could impact on the health of children in schools. "No more dangerous than cooking fumes yada yada yada....." yeah right! And people wonder why I decided to provide my kids with a STEM based education from home.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    And now we are suddenly surprised that manufacturing plastics from toxic chemicals actually released toxic chemicals into the air. Even when you do it in your own home. Who would've known.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Donwulff ( 27374 )

      Some perspective would always be welcome, even on Slashdot. Cooking is still by far more dangerous and effects far, far more people and as such is a public health hazard. http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/cookingstudy.pdf I can only hope one day we will be living in an evidence-based society where cooking will be outlawed as a public menace. That said of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with studying and reducing health hazards, and many printer manufacturers have long since responded with filte

      • Totally, let's just everyone eat all our food raw. Or even while it's still alive. Because there is so much evidence that the pre-metabolizing via cooking is a horrible idea, nor is it one of the few differences between humans and everything else. I think we would all be far safer with a vast increase of harmful live bacteria on our food. Those pesky "studies" and "required classes" for food handling is all crap anyway; I agree that it's all a vast conspiracy about the myth of 148 degrees and in reality
      • One thing that has not yet happened but would be somewhat welcome is some sort of "chemical safety labeling" for printer filament

        You mean like this MSDS [3dxtech.com] for 3DXNano(TM) ESD ABS?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It would seem that the best approach is simply to 3D print things in a well-ventilated area. Lots of things are toxic if exposed to sufficient concentrations. In the absence (for now) of alternatives to the toxic chemicals, the best advice is ventilation and avoid the areas as much as possible where printing is being done.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28, 2016 @10:32PM (#51393213)

      How many people ACTUALLY print in a well-ventilated area though? If many people are using these printers, and most of them are doing so indoors(many are inside bedrooms) and most of those aren't opening doors or windows to ventilate the room: I think the headline is of significant public interest. I have a printer running in our guest bedroom right now with all doors and windows shut. I walk in the room to check on the print and get a good smell of ABS fumes every hour or so.

      • i might. i'm not sure. i get all of my stuff printed from places like shapeways.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          What a weird notion. Printing with online services that use professional machines rather than cheapo home filament extruders? It's almost like you actually care about quality or something ;)

  • Um, ventilate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:37PM (#51393033)

    Doesn't every single printer and every single guide say to use in a well ventilated area for obvious reasons? You don't want to solder in a small office with no ventilation either.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:37PM (#51393035) Journal
    "Did you or a loved one ever suffer infirmities, disease, or even death after using a 3D printer while working in a shipyard?

    If so, call us now for a free consultation. You don't pay a dime unless we win the settlement."

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:39PM (#51393045) Journal

    ....must be time to ban them.

  • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:49PM (#51393079)

    Whatever happened to all those claims of illness from photocopiers and laser printers?
    Was it ozone ... dust ... nanoparticles? Or those evil LASERs?

  • Dudes: 3D fart printers! Far out!
  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:50PM (#51393085)

    This is getting ridiculous. A moment's thought would make it obvious that the emission rates quoted in the summary are wrong by orders of magnitude. Are there even home printers today that can extrude as much as 180 g/min of material, never mind vaporize or aerosolize that much?

    • by edjs ( 1043612 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @10:10PM (#51393145)

      All the measurements are in micrograms/min, if you look at the article.

      I'm guessing the submitter pasted-in the text from the article without realizing the symbols would be dropped by ./ - preview is your friend.

      • I woke up to go post me a quick story and then I thought somebody was barbecuing. I said oh lord Jesus it's a fire! Then I ran out. I didn't hit no preview or nothin'. I posted and ran for my life. And then the smoke got me. I got bronchitis. Ain't nobody got time for previewin'!

      • A comment system from this century (ie that can fundamentally accept cut'n'paste text without choking like a cat on a hairball) would be a better friend, I'm thinking.

  • Ensure ventilation and don't breathe in the fumes just like when working with solvents and a pile of other things you don't want inside your lungs.
  • by Alypius ( 3606369 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @11:26PM (#51393435)
    ...for the inevitable lawsuits by California bottom-feeders under Prop 65.
  • It seems like a cheap little activated carbon mesh filter in front of a small fan would take care of most of the particulates. Does anyone know of something like that, or something else cheap and easy, would significantly reduce the VOCs?

    This being Slashdot, I'm sure some readers have a strong opinion and no clue, but I wonder if someone here actually knows about filtering o absorbing VOCs.

    • Carbon is what you use in a respirator cartridge. For stuff like organic vapors, a hobbyist is better off wearing a respirator than trying to filter since the former is cheaper and easier to get right. The same sort of thing you'd wear to spray some lacquer in your garage would do well enough, I'd think.
  • Just print out a Know Your Chemical Hazards [pinterest.com] sign and keep right on printing!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2016 @05:56AM (#51394791)

    what you can DETECT rather than what's actually significantly harmful, and without any tether to the reality of the relative risks, you will regulate everything and panic over everything eventually as technology gives you an ever-increasing ability to detect. This is one of the big problems with the EPA. When President Nixon created that agency, it merrily started regulating based on detection. A huge know-nothing portion of the population has now been raised in this anti-science omni-political activist environment falls for any shrieking by any group that points anything it chooses to, never knowing the truth about why a particular person or group decided to start whipping-up panic over a particular thing.

    Example of this modern madness: Mankind has used mercury thermometers for centuries; they've saved more lives and advanced human understanding of the world more than any person could possibly quantify. Several years ago at a public school in Southern California, a student in a science class accidentally broke one in the lab - and the school had an evacuation and a HazMat team was called-in wearing full protection suits to clean-up the "toxic spill". There were weeping mothers on the evening news worried about the permanent harm their children might have suffered...

    Odds that any person will be permanently harmed or killed by fumes from a 3D printer? Zero

    Odds that a user of a 3D printer will be permanently harmed or killed by drugs, or alcohol, or base jumping, or a vehicular accident?

    I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what to worry about, and whether to panic over the next obnoxious moron trying to generate publicity and scare you into demanding the government control even more of your life.

  • But my 3d printer is a volkswagen
  • Wow... Oh, wait a sec. Didn't we already know that melting/burning plastic releases toxic fumes? Did people think that wouldn't be the case if a computer was involved?
  • I have a small office with 3 Maketbot 2s and 2 Makerdot 5s running PLA. Occasionally the smell is enough to make me leave the room, but I've found that a change in diet will clear that right up.
  • temperature had a bigger effect on particle emission than the extruder temperature.

    http://pubs.acs.org/appl/liter... [acs.org]

    This implies that a lot of particle emissions are coming from the bed/print interface. What would cause that?

    I manage 6 of these machines all tucked into a not particularly well ventilated corner of a room at the makerspace. I'll be taking this seriously.

  • [looks over shoulder of co-worker] "Whatcha treedee printin'?"

    [responds with a look of gritty determination:] "CANCER"
  • I once came across a CAT5E cable with a warning that it contained lead and that I should wash my hands after handling it.

    I didn't.

Algol-60 surely must be regarded as the most important programming language yet developed. -- T. Cheatham