Desktop FDM 3D printers emit fine particles and organic matter during the printing process, and there are some devices that can effectively filter out the fine particles and organic matter emitted by sealing the body and adding filters to purify it. In this article, let's continue to explore, is FDM 3D printer harmful to health? What can be done about it?
When it comes to 3D printing safety, most people think of printers catching fire, however, 3D printers also produce particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). So, what's the big deal about 3D printing and particulate matter or VOCs?
We'll cover the main problems with 3D printing emissions from a safety perspective and, more importantly, some misconceptions. Finally, we'll give you some solutions so you can make sure you and the people near your 3D printer are safe when printing.
When it comes to the safety of 3D printing, there are some misconceptions that can occur when it comes to emissions, and these can be divided into the following.
Myth #1: 3D printing PLA is 100% safe when there is no ventilation system in place.
It has been proven that PLA produces more toxic particulate matter than ABS. However, at the same temperature, PLA does not produce as many particles as ABS, which leads to confusion about the safety of printing PLA in terms of VOCs and ultrafine particles.
In other words, higher print temperatures tend to release more ultrafine particles and VOCs than lower temperatures. since PLA prints at lower temperatures than ABS, it does not release as many toxins overall.
Myth #2: If it doesn't smell great, it's not harmful.
This is simply not true, because many of the trace VOCs and ultrafine particles in 3D printing do not have a strong odor, and the harmfulness of the odor is not directly related to the harmfulness. In other words, if you can smell the fumes from a 3D printer, then you are undoubtedly inhaling VOCs and ultrafine particles that may have health effects later on.
Myth #3: 3D printers must be ventilated outdoors or they cannot be filtered.
In fact, most 3D printers are not ventilated to the outside because when they do so, the cavity loses heat, increasing the chances of distortion and other adverse effects.
Myth #4: HEPA filters do not filter out the nano particles produced by 3D printers.
This is also incorrect. HEPA filters can and do filter out nanoparticles produced by 3D printers, although they are rated for particles larger than ultrafine particles.
Emissions from 3D printing generally fall into two main categories: particulate emissions and VOC emissions. We'll discuss each in more detail below, and then explore their harmful effects.
First, let's define particulate. Due to the way FDM and SLA 3D printers cure plastics, there will always be ultra-fine particles produced into the air that may be inhaled during the printing process. However, because of the very small size of the particles, 100 nanometers or less, we are unlikely to see these "ultrafine particles".
Therefore, it is the size of these particles that makes them dangerous. Because they are easily inhaled, long-term exposure can cause damage to the lungs or other tissues.
In contrast to particulate matter, VOCs are the "fumes" you may smell when a 3D printer prints with certain filaments, such as ABS.
If you've ever smelled burning plastic, dry paint, or even campfire smoke, you've probably inhaled some sort of VOCs. we're not saying that campfire smoke is inherently dangerous, however, inhaling fumes day after day can lead to all sorts of illnesses, depending on the chemicals inhaled.
Does the type of 3D printer matter?
Unfortunately, the two most common types of 3D printers, FDM and SLA, produce particles and VOCs at normal print settings. there are several articles, such as those from Georgia Tech and the EPA, that directly point out these issues and what types can affect emissions.
The big question is, why is it potentially harmful to inhale VOCs and particulates? When it comes to VOCs, the answer is pretty straightforward. If you've ever read the warning on the side of an aerosol can that says "Do Not Inhale" underneath a bunch of warnings about health hazards associated with inhalation, this is why.
Specifically, according to HealthLinkBC, inhaling certain VOCs can cause a variety of short-term health problems, such as "eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and skin problems." Long-term health problems may include permanent organ damage and even certain cancers.
In contrast, ultrafine particles act a little differently than VOCs because the particles themselves are not necessarily harmful chemicals per se. The harm from ultrafine particles comes more from their size and their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs, and other similar problems. There is evidence that ultrafine particles can even have long-term cardiovascular effects, as well as various health risks.
How big is the relative risk?
It is important to note that many processes in everyday life produce ultrafine particles and VOCs. common cooking activities, such as cooking on a gas stove, can produce similar amounts of ultrafine particles as 3D printing. Extra care should be taken, however, as 3D printers typically run much longer than traditional gas stoves and therefore tend to produce more particles overall.
We hope we haven't scared you off too much. And, have no fear, there are three main ways to reduce VOCs and particulate emissions during the 3D printing process.
Place your printer in an enclosed environment
The biggest way to reduce particulates and VOCs is to prevent them from leaving the work area around the printer in the first place. Many people do this by building "walls" to slow the spread of toxins, essentially trapping them within the printing area.
Of course, due to the size and nature of the particles in VOCs, unless your enclosure is perfectly sealed, this won't keep you completely safe because VOCs and particles will leak out over time. However, in many cases, it will slow it down enough for your existing ventilation system to keep the particle density outside the enclosure fairly low.
Use filters for particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
A second way to reduce particulates and VOCs is to use an air filter with a housing so that the particulates and VOCs are absorbed by the filter. See below how to choose the right type of filter, as it depends on the type of emissions (particulate matter vs. VOCs) you want to eliminate. You have a variety of choices, from relatively DIY to expensive options.
Venting the flue gases outside
A third way to reduce particulates and VOCs is to simply vent the print area outdoors. This option is listed last because it has one significant drawback. By venting the print area outdoors, you will cool the print area. This will make printing on filament materials such as ABS difficult, as prints tend to warp easily without heated build plates and chambers.
3D printing filters, what are the options? Basically, in order to filter out both VOCs and particulate matter, you need the following two types of filters.
Note that this applies to both FDM and SLA 3D printers, although the relative amounts of particles and VOCs differ between the two methods. SLA tends to require more VOCs to be removed, while FDM printers tend to require more ultrafine particles to be removed.
- HEPA filters or high grade MERV filters (MERV 17 or higher). These types of filters can remove ultra-fine particles.
- Activated carbon filters. This type of filter can remove VOCs.
Of course, both activated carbon filters and HEPA (or high MERV) filters come in many shapes and sizes. Nevertheless, they are a relatively simple solution for removing airborne particles. HEPA air purifiers can remove ultra-fine particles from the air under normal operating conditions with a very high efficiency of 99.97% reduction.
Interestingly, although there is a misconception that these filters only work down to 0.3 micron particles, in fact, smaller particles are captured by the filters in much higher quantities due to Brownian motion.
So if you want to keep the heat out of your 3D printed enclosure, but still be safe and remove particles and VOCs, you can simply place an air purifier in your 3D printed enclosure. The air purifier should use both HEPA and activated carbon types of filters to ensure that both types of emissions are greatly reduced.
Here are a few options for filtering these emissions
Wall-mountable unit: Alveo3D has made a 3D printed filter that filters out VOCs and ultrafine particles. Each filter is made of HEPA H13 and activated carbon, and includes a 120mm high-pressure fan to move air through the filter.
Air purifier: Another option is to purchase an air purifier and use it inside your 3D printed enclosure to filter out VOCs and particles.
3D printed purifier: Our last option seems rather silly, but you can make it with a disposable P100 filter and some 3D printed parts, although you may need an extra fan to make it work. Designers believe that this type of filter will do nothing to reduce ultra-fine particles, but as we mentioned before, this is not the case due to the Brownian motion theory of filtration.
It is important to note that the location where the filter is placed can affect its effectiveness. We recommend placing the filter according to the manufacturer's instructions, and the placement of the filter will vary depending on the type of filter and the amount of air passing through it.
If you're looking for a quick solution but haven't decided what type of filtration system you want to use, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce the impact of emissions.
First, if there are other filters in the room, a temporary filter with a MERV rating can reduce airborne particulate matter.
Or, if the temperature is not too hot or too cold, you can print near an open window to reduce total particles and VOCs. Ideally, a fan should be installed near the printer to blow particulates and VOCs outside and minimize indoor circulation.