Does the 3D printer damage the indoor air quality?

According to a new study, consumer-quality 3D printers emit particles into the atmosphere that can adversely affect air quality. This is mainly due to indoor pollution, such as in offices.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, was based on the results of several tests conducted using 3D printers to measure the effects on the respiratory system of humans. As one of the authors of the study, Professor Rodney Weber of Earth School of Technology, Georgia State Institute of Technology, notes, the tests “have shown that there is a toxic reaction to particles of different types of fibers used by these 3D printers.”

The researchers analyzed the chemical composition of these particles, as well as their toxic potential. These emissions are due to the peculiarities of 3D-printers. These devices apply and melt layers on layers to create an object, and it is the heating of plastic that causes the emission of ultrafine particles into the air around the printer.

The warmer the temperature used by the printer to melt the fibers, the higher the emission level. The largest source of radiation is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which requires a higher melting point to be reached. Polymalic lactic acid (PLA), which requires a lower temperature, produces the least emissions.

Tests for toxicity have shown that PLA particles are more toxic than ABS particles. However, more ABS particles were emitted by printers during the tests, so Weber himself explains that these emissions are ultimately of greater concern.

There are also concerns about the “additives” added to fibers by manufacturers to achieve certain characteristics that are largely hidden. According to Weber, these additives can affect the amount of emissions for ABS. This means that ABS yarns purchased from one manufacturer can produce more harmful emissions than one from another.

Links:

https://www.news.gatech.edu/2019/10/07/particles-emitted-consumer-3d-printers-could-hurt-indoor-air-quality

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b04168