3D Parts Printing May Be Nasty Toxic For Lungs

In the 2020 24 Hours At Daytona, there were 75 3D printed parts in the C8 R Corvettes that raced. Bentley, Porsche, BMW, even Ferrari use 3D printed parts for their production vehicles. GM has an entire factory devoted to 3D parts printing. Restorers are using the technology to make unobtainable parts. And a father and son team 3D printed an entire Lamborghini Aventador in their Colorado garage. Everyone knows someone that is making 3D printed parts. But did you know that 3D parts printing may be nasty toxic for your lungs?

3D printers can now be found in homes, schools, and libraries

3D parts printing | Getty

Because 3D printers can now be found in homes, schools, libraries, and places where people gather, it’s getting more scrutiny for potential health risks. The particles released into the atmosphere during the print process are tiny. The fine nature of those particles can be buried deep into the lungs. 

This week at the annual Society for Risk Analysis a symposium takes place that details 3D parts printing exposure and risk assessment. The basic materials used in 3D printing are volatile and semi-volatile chemicals and materials. Things like thermoplastics, metals, nanomaterials, polymers, and more. Particulates of these materials are released during the process. 

“The general public has little awareness of exposures to 3D printer emissions”

Parts made by 3D printing with polymers for spacecraft at Lockheed Martin’s space systems | Getty

“To date, the general public has little awareness of possible exposures to 3D printer emissions,” states Peter Byrley, Ph.D., EPA, and lead author about emissions research at the Environmental Protection Agency. “A potential societal benefit of this research is to increase public awareness of 3D printer emissions, and of the possibly higher susceptibility of children.”

Part of this research includes looking at how the ingestion of plastics affects humans, animals, and fish. The amount of plastics in the ocean is becoming a huge problem. But we were always told that plastic is not harmful to humans. 

Now, researchers are looking at what happens when plastics break down. A Duke University professor has developed a machine that measures the breakdown of a plastic object like a bottle. As it is used and then the rubbing and sanding that takes place over the course of the bottle’s lifetime are simulated. The particles it sheds are fed to fish which are then dissected to see how those particles affected the fish’s organs. 

Nanomaterials thought to be “biologically unavailable” become exposed in the environment

3D printers farm by Prusa Research by Josef Prusa pictured in Prague, Czech Republic | Getty

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What has been found is that when plastics age and start to break down the nanomaterials thought to be “biologically unavailable” become exposed in the environment. This was used to predict the amount of nanoparticles plastics break down and are released. “This research can help set regulations on how much nanomaterial fillers can be added to particular consumer products, based on their MRF value,” states Joana Marie Sipe, author of the study. An “MRF value or Matrix Release Factor is the amount of plastic or nanoparticles released over time. “The data can help determine how much plastic and/or nano-filled products release contaminants into the environment or the human body.”

While this research is ongoing a definitive answer has not been released. For those working with 3D printers at home or on the job, the safest approach is to use a mask. Measuring the potential risks is just getting started. But it’s clear that taking precautions now will help prevent lung issues down the road.