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Health and 3-D Printing

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I feel as 3-d printing progresses and begins to become more mainstream, we should start to consider the potential health impacts of printing within our homes. I haven't had the chance to read through the medical literature, but there was one study that caught my eye and I found interesting.

It examines the level of nanoparticles that are released during 3-d printing with both PLA and ABS. The study raises an important question regarding these nanoparticles; could they be impacting our health?

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231013005086

Many may state that as long as 3-d printers stay below the level of combustion, certain toxic by-products are not produced. However, it is important to note that we are assuming manufacturers are disclosing all the material contents of their filament, which may or may not be the case. In addition, sometimes even inert materials can cause lung and other health issues such as long term exposure to fine particles of clay dust leading to silicosis ("Potter's rot").

Could the nanoparticles that arise during 3-d printing also cause such issues after long term exposure in a poorly ventilated environment?

I know in the month I've had my printer, my asthma seems to be triggered during printing times and several hours afterwards even with just PLA. To resolve this issue, I am going to be building an enclosure for my UMO, with a carbon filter, and a hose linked to an old dryer vent for additional ventilation. I am open to suggestions from the community and will share instructions once I complete my design.

This thread is not intended to cause panic, but rather to stimulate thought and encourage this intelligent and innovative community to consider the possibilities and offer solutions.

 

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Well, (a) I don't understand what would be producing "nanoparticles": the PLA comes on a filament that is melted, not a dust. (b) PLA is biodegradable, so even if present I don't understand why they would be harmful. Hopefully the hypochondriacs and safety fascistas don't get to interfere with this hobby like they interfere my woodworking, metalworking, plastic casting... or just about anything else fun come to think of it.

 

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(a) I don't understand what would be producing "nanoparticles": the PLA comes on a filament that is melted, not a dust.

 

Every solid releases vapours (atoms/molecules) all the time. This is usually called/described by vapour pressure which depends on the ambient temperature. Heating plastic will make it release more molecules and this is what you can smell. This is what they meant by nanoparticles.

By the way, dust is way too big to be considered nanoparticles.

 

( B) PLA is biodegradable, so even if present I don't understand why they would be harmful.

 

Biodegradable does not mean "not harmful". It just means that it will be broken down within a reasonable time. Nothing to do with toxicity.

 

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Keep in mind that heating any oils also results in very similar nano particles. One good example is cooking in a wok. This creates tons of these particles. Or making french fries? Another example is candles. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that most wax in candles comes from the petroleum industry - the major ingredients probably come out of separating natural oil into various distillates from tar to gasoline and petroleum jelly somewhere in the middle? I'm sure there are more steps to make wax or plastic. I never took organic chemistry.

 

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"Hopefully the hypochondriacs and safety fascistas don't get to interfere with this hobby like they interfere my woodworking, metalworking, plastic casting... or just about anything else fun come to think of it."

You and me both Don. I just read today that Ladybird books have given way to some d*mn lobbyist group to remove the "for girls" "for boys" from the cover page. Personally I would rather read about tigers than dolls houses.

 

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Gr5

You make a good point. The potential difference though is in the level of nanoparticles released and the duration that they remain elevated in the local environment. Some people have their printer running for 6-8 hours a day or even longer. The concern is long term as high environmental nanoparticle concentrations lead to the release of proinflammatory cytokines from cells and the induction of oxidative stress which damages tissue. Certainly not a process that causes significant harm overnight, but given a long enough course this could lead to negative health outcomes. I was noticing my asthma being triggered by printing, which makes sense given asthma is a disorder of inflammatory processes.

I'm certainly not going to let this detract me from 3-d printing, I think the solution is easy for anyone with concerns, simply build an enclosure with a filter and/or increase the ventilation in your print room.

 

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How toxic can nanoparticles be? Their LD50 would have no be nano as well. This makes as much sense as homeopathy.

 

The thread isn't specifically referencing toxicity. The thread is addressing the potential health outcomes of nanoparticles when inhaled. Non-toxic particles can cause damage through instigating a chronic inflammatory response. Particulate properties such as size and charge influence their ability to stimulate cells. These mechanisms are well established in the medical literature and I encourage you to investigate them.

 

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Well, I would suggest that anyone who is especially sensitive should maybe avoid 3D printing.

Sorry, but I know from experience that lots of very silly regulation arises out speculation like this. For example VOC regulations: one person coughed once after painting all day with the windows closed, so now we can't buy oil based paints.

 

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@printerfan - I find it interesting that you think there is an association between 3d printing and asthma. Do you have similar associations with candles or hot oil frying?

I sometimes get asthma but it's not much of a problem for me. But I am not a runner specifically because of the asthma. I still get lots of exercise - just not aerobic.

I think once I might have gotten a bit of asthma from some candles. I'll have to pay more attention in the future.

I have definitely had no asthma from my 3d printer. I have quite a large house and it's not as air tight as it should be.

 

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Gr5

I do not fry food nor do I use candles, but they are both known asthma triggers. Not all potential triggers instigate an asthmatic attack in all asthmatics, but for myself smoke is definitely a trigger. I understand my asthma being triggered by 3-d printing represents only an N=1, which is why it was only mentioned as a side note of my personal experience and it was the reason I began to look into the medical literature in the first place because before that I had no reason to think printing PLA could carry any potential health consequences.

Maybe printing doesn't have any effect on health, maybe it does, maybe it takes 20 years of 8 hours a day of printing to cause any negative effect. The point is we don't currently know, but if we look at the data, we know that printing does elevate local levels of nanoparticles significantly and we also know that long term exposure to small particles from other inert substances can cause negative health outcomes. Through inductive reasoning, I feel that its worth us having a discussion about the potential issues.

Like I mentioned earlier, I'm going to build an enclosure and improve ventilation, some may feel the current data doesn't warrant the time or money to build an enclosure. As a community I feel we should provide information to each other that we feel is pertinent, that way people can make their own personal decision based on their interpretation current data.

 

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I recently built an acrylic dome-like cover and acrylic hinged door to my U2 (no filter). The goal was a heated enclosure for printing ABS and it is working fantastically! Aside from the great, warp-free prints I am now enjoying, I noticed two things; 1) A lot less noise 2) A lot less smell. Are these nano particles only present when the filament(s) reach high temperature? ie.even though I don't have a filter, once the print cools down and I open the front door, are the nano particles now gone? Or are they collecting on the inside bottom of my U2? Seems if I added a filter with an exhaust fan of some sort, that would suck the warmth out of my heated enclosure, no?

 

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RandyinLA

I recommend you read the article linked at the top of the thread as it answers most of your questions, but in summary the nanoparticles are in the air and they remain there for a period of time until they settle or dissipate.

I agree, an exhaust fan will likely lower the temperature of the enclosure, which is counter to what we want. Will need to brainstorm to find a solution that won't risk burning down my house. :/

 

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I think that the article is a good start - there is no harm in studies which assess the safety of any particular process and we are melting plastics, often in the home environment.

Every plastic produces a 'smell' which means that you are sensing something and breathing it in.

Currently I don't feel that 3dp is exposing me to anything more than when I un-cap a sharpie or drink from a polystyrene cup or use clingfilm - but I do limit my exposure to those things and I do limit my exposure to the potential effects of 3dp by operating them in a reasonably well ventilated space.

Photocopiers went through the same scrutiny and developed integrated filters which considerably reduced their outputs (and I can still smell when they are working) so this is not an unusual part of an office environment product going through growing pains.

Keep an eye on the outcome and form a well reasoned opinion - just because high cooking temp by-products are also bad for you is not a reason to not listen to this research - but how you react may be tempered by your perceived risk of exposure. Would I put these in a bedroom in which I slept - no. Would I currently use them in a well ventilated normal room - yes I would (based on my current understanding of the risk). If I were building a commercial space where they placed a large number of these I would definitely ventilate the space to a commercial standard.

 

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Would have been nice to see a comparison with the nano particles released during common things like cooking etc...

I never print ABS because of the toxic fumes and when you look at the table it clearly shows that ABS is really bad and should not be printed without a good ventilation.

I print mainly in PLA and it's true that it smells sometimes, i try to keep the room closed and leave the windows open most of the time when printing... now it's true that sometimes i'm on my computer next to the printer which is not really good i guess.

I think it also probably depends a lot on the manufacturer of the filament... i would trust more someone like Colorfabb who actually does some tests on filaments (XT was really well tested for this), than some cheap chinese brand.

Would be nice to compare different brands of filaments too.

 

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Hi, I'm very interested in the subject ! Did someone find anything new ? I thought I could close my printer and just put HEPA U15 filters with carbon activated filters and 2 fans like in this article : http://www.fabbaloo.com/blog/2015/3/1/finally-a-3d-printer-filter-accessory

Is it a good idea ? I don't know if I understood, but I think I read filters were more efficient when used without fans and particles only pushed by gravity ?

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Hello,

     This is James Nordstrom from 3DPrintClean,  the product mentioned in the Fabbaloo link.  We have come a long way since this article was published,  launching a pro line of enclosures and filtration systems, that can be found at 3DPrintClean.com and recently launching a Kickstarter for our new Lightweight enclosures. See:

     Our Lightweight enclosure was tested by the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, if you are interested in the difference between enclosed and filtered printing, and unenclosed printing, please see: http://3dprintclean.com/scrubber-filtration.htm

     The team at IIT has released a second paper entitled "Emissions of Ultrafine Particles and Volatile Organic Compounds from Commercially Available Desktop Three-Dimensional Printers with Multiple Filaments" See: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.5b04983

     James

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