The Daily 3D Detail: How safe are 3D printer plastics?

Posted by Editor On August - 4 - 2017

How Safe are 3D Printer Plastics?

VOCs produced by melting ABS, PLA, nylon and PET.

According to a recent privately-funded study conducted in Poland on the dangers of heated thermoplastics ABS, PLA, PET, and nylon, the risk to human health is nominal, and even in the case of ABS, is well under the prescribed exposure limitations of work safety organizations. (Above image courtesy of The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.)

According to the authors of the study, Szymon Wojtyła, Piotr Klama, and Tomasz Baran:

“The conducted study has shown that ABS is significantly more toxic than PLA. The emission of volatile organic compounds (VOC) has been in the range of 0.50 µmol/h. Styrene has accounted for more than 30% of total VOC emitted from ABS, while for PLA, methyl methacrylate has been detected as the predominant compound (44% of total VOCs emission).

According to the World Health Organization, a report on the danger of inhaled plastic gasses, toxicity occurs at higher temperatures and in environments without adequate ventilation. The report outlines specific data on methyl methacrylate (MMA), the most prominent Volatile organic compounds (VOC) in PLA:

“The acute toxicity of methyl methacrylate is low. Irritation of the skin, eye, and nasal cavity has been observed in rodents and rabbits exposed to relatively high concentrations of methyl methacrylate. The chemical is a mild skin sensitizer in animals. The effect observed most frequently at lowest concentration after repeated inhalation exposure to methyl methacrylate is irritation of the nasal cavity. Effects on the kidney and liver at higher concentrations have also been reported. The lowest reported effect level for inhalation was 410 mg/m3 in rats exposed to methyl methacrylate for 2 years (based upon inflammatory degeneration of the nasal epithelium); the no-observed-effect level (NOEL) in this investigation was approximately 100 mg/m3.”

While the recent study recommends implementation of better filtering systems into future desktop FDM 3D printers for added safety, the results clearly indicate that under normal print operations, the exposure danger to operators fall well below any danger levels.

For more on the story, see this article at 3DPrintingIndustry.com.

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