Underwriters Laboratories Chemical Safety and Georgia Institute of Technology Release Pioneering 3D Printing Research

Chemical Insights
  • Press Release

November 12, 2018

Studies identify a potential health risk from emissions released from 3D printers

The Chemical Insights Research Institute at Underwriters Laboratories and the Georgia Institute of Technology, also known as Georgia Tech, announced today a body of research that explores the impact of 3D printing on indoor air quality.

Following an in-depth, two-year research period with Georgia Tech, Chemical Insights found that many desktop 3D printers generate ultrafine particles (UFPs) while in operation. UFPs may pose a health concern since they are the size of nanoparticles and may be inhaled and penetrate deep into the human pulmonary system.

The research also revealed that more than 200 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which are known or suspected irritants and carcinogens, are also released while 3D printers are in operation.

"Following our series of studies – the most extensive to date on 3D printer emissions – we are recommending additional investments in scientific research and product advancement to minimize emissions, and increased user awareness so safety measures can be taken," Marilyn Black, vice president and senior technical adviser, said.

To fully understand the impact of the chemical and particle emissions on health, Black advocates for a complete risk assessment that factors in dose and personal sensitivity considerations.

Many factors, including nozzle temperature, filament type, filament and printer brand, and filament color, affect emissions while extrusion temperature, filament material and filament brand were found to have the greatest impact on emission levels. However, there is currently little marketplace information available to help users choose safer options.

"Studies have shown that fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers designed for general public use emit high levels of ultrafine and fine particles," Rodney Weber, Georgia Tech's primary investigator of the research, said. "Preliminary tests with in vivo, in vitro and acellular methods for particles generated by a limited number of filaments showed adverse responses."

The findings come at a time when this low-cost, compact and user-friendly emerging technology is increasingly gaining momentum in consumer, commercial, medical and educational settings.

As the use of 3D printers in schools has become prolific, special care should be taken to minimize exposure of emissions to children who are the most sensitive among populations to environmental contaminant impact.

The potential risks can be lessened by:

  • Operating 3D printers only in well-ventilated areas
  • Setting the nozzle temperature at the lower end of the suggested temperature range for filament materials
  • Standing away from operating machines
  • Using machines and filaments that have been tested and verified to have low emissions.

Based on the scientific research conducted with Georgia Tech and further collaboration with third-party stakeholders, a UL/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) consensus standard for testing and evaluating 3D printer emissions has been developed. UL/ANSI 2904 is now in the final stages of completion, and the final standard is expected to be ready in December 2018.   

Two scientific research papers, "Characterization of particle emissions from consumer fused deposition modeling 3D printers" and "Investigating particle emissions and aerosol dynamics from a consumer fused deposition modeling 3D printer with a lognormal moment aerosol model," have been published in Aerosol Science and Technology. Two additional papers are currently under review on the toxicity of 3D printer particles and plethora of chemical emissions.

To find out more about UL Chemical Safety and its 3D printing initiative, visit Chemical Insights.