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3D printing process emissions may compromise cell function and DNA: study


Photo: kynny/iStockphoto

Marietta, GA — Even low-level exposure to emissions from 3D printers that use fused filament fabrication technology can adversely affect cells in the human body, results of a recent study show.

Researchers from Chemical Insights, an institute of Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and the Georgia State University School of Public Health measured emissions from 3D printers in separate high school and university locations over a three-hour printing duration. They examined emissions from two common 3D printing filaments: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polylactic acid.

Findings show that exposure to fused filament fabrication emissions near the printing source may trigger cell injury and inflammation while compromising DNA and other molecules that assist living cells. Exposure was associated with a 49.5%-56% reduction in cellular viability, while exposure in an adjacent room or other low-level source was associated with cellular viability reductions of 15.4%-18.2%.

Overall, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene “appears to have higher toxicity” than polylactic acid, the researchers write. Styrene is considered a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.


Chemical Insights recommends multiple best practices to protect workers from possible 3D-printing hazards, including:

  • Purchase 3D printers and supplies that have been independently verified or certified to produce lower emissions.
  • Purchase and use only filaments recommended by the printer manufacturer.
  • Place printers in a location that has good room ventilation, operable windows or local exhaust fans that can be placed above the equipment. Situate printers in a way that users can’t hover over them while in operation.
  • Use printers according to the manufacturer’s instructions and safety recommendations, while operating the printer nozzle at the lowest recommended temperature.
  • Maintain a safe distance from printers during operation.

Additionally, Chemical Insights recommends situating 3D printers away from heavy-traffic areas, such as in an isolated room – away from offices and classrooms – with an operable door. Ensure printers are located adjacent to a sprinkler system, for fire safety concerns.

“Make sure that the 3D printer is placed in a well-ventilated space with a well-mixed outdoor air supply and returns that vent contaminants from the room to the outside without recirculating them within the building,” the organization says.

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