Researchers working at Underwriters Laboratories

CIRI calls for renewed safety advice after health concerns raised by 3D printing emissions research

The Insight Chemical Research Institute (CIRI), a non-profit arm of safety research specialists Insurance Labsfound that 3D printing emissions can harm human health, even in small amounts.

at recent days CIRI . Toxicity StudyThe researchers found that exposure to fumes generated when printing ABS or PLA filaments, can “contribute to airway cellular injury and inflammation.” Based on their research, the scientists say that operating extrusion 3D printers from a safe distance, as well as strategies to mitigate ventilation and filtration, should be discussed in safety guidelines on these machines.

Researchers working at CIRI Underwriters Laboratories. Image via Underwriters Labs.

Reaching the bottom of emissions

According to the researchers behind the paper, Dr. Christa Wright, now formerly Georgia State Universityand CIRI graduate student Jennifer Jeon, whose study was prompted by concerns about the harmfulness of fumes from certain printers.

Specifically, because FFF systems heat, cool, and treat the filaments, scientists believed that chemical compounds released into the air could be “hazardous” to operators. Given the growing popularity of 3D printers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educational settings, the pair said it was “essential” to know what materials and conditions present the greatest risks, as well as the consequences of smoke inhalation.

To find out, the researchers cultured small airway epithelial cells in a dish before exposing them to particles generated by 3D printing ABS and PLA, and examined their responses. The team then measured the particulate emissions over a three-hour period and entered them into a multipath particle dosimetry model, which is able to determine the effect of prolonged exposure to these particles on users’ lungs.

A device previously used by CIRI and the state of Georgia to assess the effect of vaping.  Image via CIRI.
A device previously used by CIRI and the State of Georgia to assess the effect of vaping on smokers’ lungs. Image via CIRI.

CIRI . Toxicity Results

The researchers’ experiments, conducted in July 2021, confirmed their concerns about the damage the emissions could do to the lung cells of users of 3D printers. Those samples that were exposed to high doses of ABS printing fumes showed a 49.5% decrease in their viability, and even dishes far away or in adjacent rooms were affected, albeit to a lesser degree.

The team then turned to metabolic profiling, a process by which cells can be evaluated for high levels of metabolites, metabolic byproducts associated with cell injury and inflammation. In the case of PLA and ABS, the test showed that the fumes released when these were printed cause cells to “change”, with prostaglandins, compounds that target injury or infection, being particularly affected.

Interestingly, while the scientists’ research showed that both PLA and ABS fumes can be “associated with a decrease in airway cell vitality, oxidative stress, increased DNA damage, and high levels of metabolites,” ABS was found to have a higher toxicity. , as the particles collected away from the printer cause further damage to its viability.

In light of their findings, the researchers aren’t advocating anything too strict, such as reviewing 3D printing of ABS or PLA in STEM settings. Instead, the duo say issues such as proximity and chances of dispersing harmful fumes should be discussed in machine safety guidelines, to educate users about potential hazards.

“ABS filament emissions may be more biologically active than PLA,” the team says in their paper. “Although pollutants were present at the high school site, emissions of ABS strands and associated exposure contributed to a significant decrease in airway microepithelial viability, oxidative stress, increased double-stranded DNA breaks, and high levels of metabolites. associated with cellular injury.”

Particle release during FFF.  Image via BOFA.
Particle release during 3D FFF printing. Image via BOFA International.

AM emissions: a growing area of ​​research

While it is relatively known that fumes emitted from certain materials during 3D printing can be harmful, the extent of this danger is still not fully understood. Just last year, the developer of smoke and particle extraction technology BOFA Emissions Research International It detected the impact of particles and gases emitted, and suggested measures that users could take to protect themselves from harm.

Scientists in US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Previously they also tried to evaluate the effect of 3D printing ABS reinforced with carbon nanofibers. through 3D printing emission studyThe agency has sought to develop new literature on the subject, designed to help users understand potential issues.

In the past, Underwriters Laboratories published themselves UL Standards for 3D Printing Emissions, to enable manufacturers to mitigate the risks of indoor air pollution. Back in 2019, the organization released “ANSI/CAN/UL 2904,” a document its vice president for standards Philippe Bequeira said would “enhance the availability of low-emissions printers and print media for use in the global market.”

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The featured image shows researchers working at Underwriters Laboratories’ CIRI Institute. Image via Underwriters Labs.

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