Are 3D printing materials toxic

How dangerous are emissions from 3D printers?

Atmospheric researcher Rodney Weber and his colleagues investigated how harmful emissions from 3D printers are for the lungs.

Image source: Allison Carter

Load on the lungs

3D printers can be found in more and more households. Researchers are now warning of possible health risks posed by the devices:

The printing process can produce fine dust and gases that penetrate the lungs and cause inflammation in the bronchi and lungs themselves. That's the result of a study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The experts collected emissions from printers and carried out various tests in the laboratory with their effects on cell cultures from the airways. "All these experiments with high doses showed signs of poisoning in the cells," says researcher Rodney Weber. The reactions were similarly worrying for different particulate matter materials. It was always about plastic. The study was part of a research project to determine printer emissions in a controlled environment.

The scientists have now presented their results in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In 3D printing, plastic powder is distributed. A fine laser beam heats the areas that are supposed to remain so that they briefly melt and bond with one another. After cooling, this area is solid. Any remaining powder is sprinkled on this object so that the next layer can be made. The higher the temperature required for melting, the greater the air pollution. The plastic acrylonitrite-butadiene-styrene (ABS), which needs higher temperatures, emits more than polylactic acid (polylactide / PLA).

In order to determine the effects of the emissions on living cells, the researchers used the knowledge of colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The tests took place on human tissue and on immune cells from rats. It turned out that the emissions from ABS and PLA have a toxic effect. The latter, however, is not quite as strong. However, this was not due to the effect of the emissions, but to the fact that they are much larger in terms of quantity when ABS is used. Over time, pollution of the air in cities with printer emissions can become as bad as that from traffic and other emissions, such as exhaust gases from heating, fears Weber.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology / press release