How far 3D Printer emissions are problematic?

In November 2018, an investigation of researchers from UL Chemical Safety and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) raised awareness on health issues caused by particles released by 3D printers.

In a report, researchers from Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research (WKI) also demonstrates that, despite its range of benefits, 3D printing also comes with some risks.

In the paper Characterization of particulate and gaseous pollutants emitted during operation of a desktop 3D printerthey studied various particles with a focus on their chemical composition and volatility, and measured the gaseous pollutants from desktop 3D printing in a standardized environmental test chamber. Previous studies on 3D printer emission were usually carried out under varying test conditions, in either room environments or chambers of different setups.

The aim of this paper is to provide a detailed analysis of particle emissions produced by thermoplastic materials used with the FFF technology as well as the different ways they can be problematic or not for health. To do so, researchers tested eight different kinds of 3D printer filament for ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds.

They carried out all tests on a Zortrax M200 and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) proposed the model of the object to be printed. The experiment was carried out in a 3 m3 stainless steel chamber (self-built, Fraunhofer WKI, Germany).

Object that was 3D printed

The particle size distribution, the particle emission rates, the chemical composition as well as the particle volatility are elements that were analyzed.

The results show large variations of VOC emission rates from different filaments: the total VOC (C6–C16) emission rates ranged from 0.2 μg/min (GLASS, a PETG-based filament) to 40.5 μg/min (ULTRAT, an ABS-based filament). Styrene was the major VOC, followed by other substances including benzaldehyde and ethylbenzene. VVOCs were also sampled and only a few substances (e.g. acetaldehyde and 2-propanal, acrylonitrile, and alcohol) were detected at low concentrations. To the best of our knowledge, we have demonstrated for the first time that the particles emitted from a desktop 3D printer are semi-volatile and are composed of SVOCs which are mainly thermoplastic additives and cyclosiloxanes. Our data, which supplement results from previous studies, lead to the conclusion that, regarding particulate and gaseous emissions, 3D printing technology and the chemical composition of filaments still need to be optimized.”

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