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  • Writer's pictureM Aerospace RTC

Health risks of 3D printing

This article will briefly explore the different ailments associated with 3D printing, the most common raw materials for the different additive manufacturing technologies are the following: filaments, resins and powders. The first two, filaments and resins, will be grouped together because their health risks are caused by fumes generated by these types of materials. In the case of dusts, special attention will be given to them due to the high risk of exposure to them.

In general, the following health risks from exposure to additive manufacturing are presented:

  • Breathing harmful materials: 3D printing can release harmful particles and chemicals into the air.

  • Skin contact with harmful materials: Users may get harmful materials, such as metal powders and solvents, on their skin.

  • Fires, static and explosions: Some materials may be combustible or flammable. The high temperatures of some printers may cause burns.

The main risks to 3D printing exposure come from two sources, ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The former are dusts and the latter will be discussed below.

VOCs can vaporize even at room temperature. These organic chemicals can then saturate the surrounding air and become health hazards. Some common materials in 3D printing processes, such as nylon, PLA and ABS produce VOCs of particular concern such as butanol and styrene.

Some VOCs are thought to be carcinogenic, however, VOCs can cause the following health hazards:

  • Central nervous system damage.

  • Irritation of throat, nasal passages and eyes.

  • Loss of general coordination.

  • Headaches.

  • Nausea.

  • Skin irritation.

There are 3 ways in which powders can interact with the body:

  • Skin contact, which may cause irritation or allergic reactions (e.g. dermatitis). If nano-dusts are involved, these particles can penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the cells of various parts of the body, including the brain.

  • Eye contact, causing mechanical irritation and damage.

  • Inhalation, resulting in respiratory problems.

In the case of inhalation, the size of the particles determines the level of penetration into the lungs.

Particles of nanometer size are of particular concern because of their ability to penetrate the skin and internal membranes, with the consequent potential to interfere with cellular activity.

The field of nanotechnology is still relatively new and it is too early to know what the long-term effects will be. It appears that at this size scale (nano) the composition of the powders is of less importance and it is rather their presence as foreign objects in the cells that causes the problem.

Nevertheless, there are indications that nanoparticles in general can cause a number of ailments, which will be discussed below.

Other hazards of dust exposure include the following:

  • Some dusts can cause granulomas on the skin and in the lungs.

  • Prolonged or repeated exposure to certain dusts can cause chronic rhinitis as well as pulmonary fibrosis.

  • Prolonged exposure to the eyes may cause conjunctivitis.

According to NIOSH, the following measures can reduce exposure to health risks from 3D printing:

  • Limit access to the equipment to trained or authorized personnel.

  • Use confinements for 3D printers and ventilation to capture their chemical emissions.

  • Use low-emission materials.

  • Reduce the time around the printer while the printer is working.

  • Train operators on potential risks and how to protect themselves.

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, gowns and respirators.

To recapitulate, exposure to dusts can cause adverse health effects, both in the short and long term. It is necessary to reduce exposure as much as possible, and if it is not possible to avoid such exposure then it is recommended to consider appropriate personal protective equipment. In addition, dusts tend to be flammable as well as explosive so special care should be taken in environments where there are concentrations of dusts in the environment to avoid sources of ignition. Finally, it is important to be aware of the risks caused by filament and resin fumes but these are easily controlled with proper ventilation and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.


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