New York: Consumer-grade 3D printers emit particles that can negatively impact indoor air quality and have the potential to harm respiratory health, according to a new study. Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and UL Chemical Safety research group collected particles emitted from 3D printers and conducted several tests to gauge their impact on respiratory cell cultures.
"All of these tests, which were done at high doses, showed that there is a toxic response to the particles from various types of filaments used by these 3D printers," said Rodney Weber, Professor in Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, who led the research.
The overall 3D printing market is expected to grow from $9.9 billion last year to $34.8 billion by 2024 and consumer 3D printing is accelerating. 3D printers typically work by melting plastic filaments and then depositing the melt layer upon layer to form an object.
Heating the plastic to melt it releases volatile compounds, some of which from ultrafine particles, that are emitted into the air near the printer and the object. In earlier research, the team found that generally the hotter the temperature required to melt the filament, the more emissions were produced.
As a result, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic filaments, which require a higher temperature to melt, produced more emissions than filaments made of polylactic acid (PLA), which melt at a lower temperature.
To test the impact of the emissions on live cells, the researchers partnered with Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, which exposed human respiratory cells and rat immune system cells to concentrations of the particles from the printers. They found that both ABS and PLA particles negatively impacted cell viability, with the latter prompting a more toxic response. But these tests did not reflect actual exposures.