With the growing popularity of 3D printers in the workplace, it's important to understand and address their potential effects on indoor air quality. In fact, all printers, including the older laser printers, emit chemicals into the air.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health researchers study emissions from various types of printers to find ways to prevent exposure to workers.
A previous study by NIOSH and university researchers found that using the manufacturer-supplied cover on the 3D printer decreased the amount of emissions containing ultrafine particles by two times, but the levels were still high.
The current study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, measured printer emissions using a specially designed stainless steel chamber that can be set to simulate realistic office conditions in terms of temperature and humidity.
Researchers tested the most commonly used type of desktop 3D printer, called the FDM, and two models of black and white laser printers.
For the 3D printers, the researchers printed a hair comb using one of two types of plastic filaments. The printing time for each comb was about 14 minutes.
They found that certain chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds, were significantly lower with laser printers compared to 3D printers.
At the same time, the 3D printers emitted 14 chemicals that laser printers did not emit.
In addition, 3D printer emissions likely combined to form other chemicals. Even after printing, 3D printed objects emitted the chemical styrene, indicating that exposure beyond the actual process of printing may be a concern in the workplace.
Both the 3D printer, using a certain type of plastic filament called ABS, and the laser printers emitted ultrafine particles that contained the toxic chemical chromium.
The results of this research can help inform future studies aimed at measuring workplace air quality and controlling work-related exposure to 3D printer emissions.