Today the Hazzards are talking about hazards. Hazards with one Z instead of two. We are talking about toxicity, fumes, and other things related to 3D print materials because there has been a report that was put out. We have talked in the past about using PLA, and one of those major reasons is that it doesn’t have unpleasant fumes or noticeable fumes. Now there has been a real serious study.
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How Harmful are 3D Printing Fumes?
In fact, we’ve talked about material safety data sheets in the past as well. Every material that is sold, especially of a chemical nature, the companies that distribute and manufacture them are supposed to have a material safety data sheet that tells the purchaser all of the chemical information regarding that product, where it came from, and information as to if it’s potentially harmful or known to be harmful, at least in the United States. With certain materials like ABS, they are going to tell you.
In California, we have Prop 65, and every time a product is sold of any kind that has any material in it that is known to the state of California to have caused cancer, they have to let you know that. Most states follow California. You actually have to mark the packaging. It is a serious consideration if you’re using this for business. I think it’s also a serious consideration if you’re using it in an educational setting because that has even greater constraints when you’re talking about children.
Educational institutions are one of the biggest growing markets for 3D printing right now. 3D printers are being put in a lot of schools. It recently happened in Montclair, New Jersey that their entire district from elementary schools to community colleges all got outfitted with MakerBot 3D printers, which is why MakerBot is so hot on this subject already.
It’s one of the reasons that they have talked about how they have optimized their 3D printers for PLA filament. They have also put out reports. They are more sensitive to it because I guarantee you they are getting pushback from the educational institutions to make sure this stuff is safe because these educational institutions have all this OSHA stuff down pat. They know what they need to do. They have to disclose all this stuff; they have to have it marked.
It goes further. Different states and different districts have different fire laws. Fire marshals have to come in when you open up your facility. This happened in Northern California when I opened up my store. They come in and inspect everything. You have to have not just your smoke detectors all checked out, but if you have any of those materials, you have to have them clearly marked. The fire marshal marks it down in their system so they know if they got called out there, there is an issue that might have a chemical compound mixed into their fire. It’s a serious safety concern from a county standpoint as well. So you have to look at both national and local ordinances.
To go back to the University of Texas study, they did actually find there was really no concern of any kind using PLA. That ties back in to what you were saying about MakerBot. PLA is deemed to be really safe in all aspects. I use PLA all the time because we suspected it was better.
I have super smell, as the girls say. The thing is, we have kids in this house. Our 3D printer is exposed because our office is like a loft, so it’s exposed to our family. If I can smell it, then it’s affecting the girls. I smell an odor; it smells sweet, kind of like honey, but it’s very mild and you have to be right over the top of it to smell it.
It’s not to say that you can’t use ABS and other materials like nylons when they operate in enclosed machines. You have that new AXIOM 3D printer from Airwolf 3D that is completely enclosed, and they primarily use ABS. Most of their customers use ABS. Isn’t the new Raise3D printer enclosed, too?
That’s what the study from University of Texas says. They say if you are going to be using ABS, you need to control those fumes and vent them to the outside, kind of like how every bathroom has an exhaust vein. There are ways to put an exhaust vein in your space or have a hood over your printer that has an exhaust fan.
Let’s put your 3D printer right next to your stove. Then you can let it go up. I don’t know if many people would like their printer in their nice kitchen. If we could network it with our Amazon Alexa and say, “Hey, Alexa, how’s our 3D print coming?” Let’s see if we can get that far, and then maybe I’d consider it because she’s in the kitchen.
We do have one concern with PLA, and I think we have to be cautious here. There are PLAs that are mixing. That one we saw at Polymaker, it has a special chemical compound that is supposed to make it jam-free. They told us that it’s in the chemical mix and it has a different melt point.
We have to make sure that we realize that not all PLAs are made alike. The one from 3D Print Life has a blend of materials. It is a PLA with a PHA additive, and I don’t know. We’re not making any judgments on that material right now, but I think you should look into it, especially if you are using it in a home environment and will be breathing it around the space.
Ask of the distributor or manufacturer you’re buying it from how safe the material is. Where is the material safety data sheet? It should tell you about the PHA chemical and if it’s a carcinogen or not. Or any other chemical that may be in there. I agree with you about the Polymaker stuff. I think you have to ask the question. It certainly is different because it performs differently. So there has to be something different about the material.
Scientific Study Confirms Beliefs About 3D Print Fumes
The University of Texas at Austin did some significant research into the health hazards of the fumes that are done with 3D printing. What they found was that there are many materials that are being used for 3D printing, and they do omit harmful vapors, VOCs, which are Volatile Organic Compounds. Some of them are carcinogens. ABS is one of the most popular 3D printing filaments, used more in small industry than home, but a lot of hobbyists and enthusiasts use it as well. It contains styrene, which is a known carcinogen.
As we mentioned when we talked to Gail Greatorex, that OSHA situation in an office or factory environment is a serious consideration that a lot of small businesses don’t think about. You don’t think about that because you don’t have that HR or Operations department that looks into these things. But it’s a serious problem that you have to pay attention to. You have to follow the rules and disclose when you have products with styrene and other carcinogens in them.
Use Your Common Sense
That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with those materials because we haven’t really used them in our environment although the PLA/PHA one has a more distinct smell. You can smell that one stronger than normal PLA, but it’s not horrible. I think you have to pay attention to that. If you’re in a critical space, if you have any critical health issues in your home, be sensitive to it. These are hazards. They are chemicals. Better safe than sorry.
The one thing I’m really pleased with now—yes, there has been a lot of discussion around this topic, and we have talked about it some and hear other people talking about it at trade shows and have people asking us about it—is not just to have a suspicion, but to actually have some research data back up what we have thought and hoped about this for quite some time.
If you have any more information about some of these other materials, the different chemical compositions of different filaments or different additives, please comment so everyone else can see that.
- University of Texas Study
- Article about safety of MakerBot PLA
- Axiom 3D Printer from Airwolf 3D
- Raise3D printer
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