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September 20, 2017

NIOSH Studies 3-D Printer Emissions

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If your business uses 3-D printers, you'll be interested in a recent NIOSH study comparing emissions from 3-D and laser printers that found 3-D printers emit 14 chemicals that laser printers do not. Further, they found that 3-D printed items continued to emit chemicals after printing, raising questions about exposure in storage and other areas.

With the growing popularity of 3-D printers in the workplace, NIOSH wants to understand and address their potential effects on indoor air quality. A previous study by NIOSH and university researchers found that using the manufacturer-supplied cover on a 3-D printer decreased the amount of emissions containing ultrafine particles by two times, but the levels were still high.

For the current study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, researchers tested the most commonly used type of desktop 3-D printer, called the FDM, and two models of black and white laser printers. For the 3-D printers. They printed a hair comb using one of two types of plastic filaments, taking about 14 minutes to complete.

3-D Printers Compared to Laser Printers:

  • Certain chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), were significantly lower with laser printers compared to 3-D printers. 
  • The 3-D printers emitted 14 chemicals that laser printers did not emit, and 3-D printer emissions likely combined to form other chemicals. 
  • Even after printing, 3-D printed objects emitted the chemical styrene, indicating that exposure beyond the actual process of printing may be a concern in the workplace. 
  • Both printers emitted ultrafine particles that contained the toxic chemical chromium. 

Findings on 3-D Printers Include:

  • Total VOC (TVOC) emission rates were influenced by a printer malfunction, filament type and, to a lesser extent, by filament color. 
  • Rates were not influenced by the number of printer nozzles used or the manufacturer's provided cover. 
  • TVOC emission rates were significantly lower for the 3-D printer compared to the laser printers. 
  • A total of 14 VOCs were identified during 3-D printing that were not present during laser printing. 
  • Specific data on emision rates is included in the published study.

Researchers did not make any recommendations or draw any conclusions regarding workplace safety, but this research can help inform future studies aimed at measuring and controlling work-related exposure to 3-D printer emissions.

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