Understanding 3D Printing Risks

Assessing the Risks of 3D Printing

The concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during resin printing, regularly exceeds safe exposure limits. A graph from the French National Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Occupational Accidents and Diseases reveals that Methyl Acrylate, a common VOC in 3D printing, can reach levels nearly five times higher than the recommended limit. These high concentrations emphasize the need to reduce odors and protect yourself from these emissions.

Graph of VOC Emissions

Our independent testing using an air quality monitor shows that soon after starting a 3d print, TVOC levels in the room reached harmful levels without ventilation.

Air Quality Guidelines from the World Health Organization are shown in the table below. A reading of TVOC 1.887 mg/m3 is well above safe exposure levels.

Decoding the Composition of 3D Printing Emissions

In a recent study, experts measured particle and VOC emission rates during stereolithography (SLA) / Resin 3D printing. While minimal particle emissions were observed, the study identified over 30 individual VOCs emitted during each operating phase.

 These VOCs included substances like esters, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, aromatics, and hydrocarbons, many of which are associated with health concerns, such as irritation, sensitization, carcinogenicity, and flammability.

The estimated personal exposure to total VOCs and specific VOCs of concern, like formaldehyde and naphthalene, exceeded recommended indoor levels, potentially leading to health impacts.


Recognizing the Significance of 3D Printing Odors

For many 3D printing enthusiasts, the first sign of concern is often the distinct odor emanating from the printer. As Dr. Marilyn Black, a leading expert in the field, notes, "Once there's an odor, you've already been exposed."

The substances detected included known carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, though in quantities below established health hazard levels. Of perhaps greater concern are other substances such as acrylates, which can function as sensitizers. Early contact with these chemicals may not cause any negative effects,.. but repeated exposure can lead to a sensitivity akin to an allergic reaction…

"Once you become sensitized, it's a chronic condition," she says. "It never goes away."

The concerns regarding 3D printing odors led to a comprehensive study by Chemical Insights, a not-for-profit institute dedicated to researching the health risks of emerging technologies. The study aimed to address the safety of 3D printers in non-industrial environments where users might be exposed to these emissions.

The study is available at ACS Publications and as a downloadable PDF.

Resin Safety 101

Another excellent article on this subject is Resin Safety 101: Personal Protective Equipment, Accidents, Disposal, and Maintenance by Ray Lin, who is an experienced professional and artist. 

The Solution: Ventilation Systems

Given the findings of the study and the hazardous emissions from 3D printing, it's evident that protective measures are necessary. For those already engaged in 3D printing, prioritizing safety should be a top consideration. One effective way to mitigate the risks associated with 3D printing emissions is by using a ventilation system.

Here are some initial guidelines to consider:

1. Ventilation System: The most effective approach to removing and dissipating these chemicals is through a direct exhaust system. Additionally, filtering the air with charcoal filters can help eliminate some harmful substances from the environment.

2. Printer Placement: When setting up your 3D printer, choose open areas with good air circulation. For home 3D printing, it's advisable to place the printer near a window that can be opened during operation. Avoid setting up your printer in "dead zones" with minimal airflow, such as closets.

For those of us who are already involved in 3D printing, it's essential to be aware of the potential health risks associated with the emissions produced during the printing process. Investing in a reliable ventilation system is not just a wise decision; it's a necessary step to safeguard your health and well-being.