The new guidance from the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS), published with the endorsement of HSE warns that standing close to desktop 3D printers could trigger respiratory symptoms in some individuals and that there is a potential for those who spend long periods using 3D printers to suffer longer term health effects.
The HSE research project which underpins the guidance, focussed on smaller 3D printers of the type commonly used in schools. The most commonly used 3D printing technology in schools involves the heating, and then extrusion of a filament of polymer material. The research found that the heated filaments used emitted large numbers of very small particles and volatile organic chemicals including polylactic acid (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), both of which could cause harm if inhaled.
The three printers which were used in the research project each made a test object, using a range of filament materials, including PLA and ABS. The study found that emitted particles were in the size range to potentially enter the respiratory tract and that emission rates were higher when using ABS than for PLA.
The tests were repeated with and without an exposure control cabinet in place. The resultant guidance is that those who use desktop 3D printers should invest in exposure control cabinets in order to control exposure of users to harmful substances, which would, according to HSE, reduce particle emissions by 97%.