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Ultra-fine particles emitted by commercial desktop 3D printers [pdf] (europa.eu)
188 points by hippich on Jan 31, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

We just finished an independent survey of 5 consumer level machines with a bunch of different materials, looking at both 10-500nm particulate and HCN emissions. Essentially, even with ABS, if you're in a decently well ventilated area, you're fine, and if you're still worried, PLA or TPU drastically reduce particulate.

I'd really love to share the paper right now, but it's someone else's masters thesis that hasn't been released yet. If anyone is interested in it and can remember, ping me in a few months?

That's a great nickname here if you're business is that kind of testing. Do the spools of plastic used in these printers typically ship with the appropriate MSDS? I'm only familiar with the plastic "pellets" that are used in injection molding plants. There are definitely MSDS posted in the plastics store-room (and obviously the machines are very well vented).

None of the standard vendors we use actually ship the MSDS, but most do supply it online.

I'm not in that business, but I do deal with various safety concerns quite a bit. When faced with basic tools, the average person tends to have a terrifying combination of inventiveness and stupidity...

The absolute world record holder: friend of mine was low on money and needed a chop saw. He figured one motor is as good as another and managed to disassemble his vacuum cleaner and hook up the blade to the motor.

It seems that those 'max RPM' warnings on circular saw blades actually do have some relevance and the blade fragments embedded over 1" in the doorframe were proof that making a proper chop saw requires a motor with less RPM than a vacuum cleaner.

It's a miracle nobody died.

Cool. May I ask, which printers did you test? Makerbot, lulzbot, ultimaker, zortrax, prusa?

Flashforge creator pros and ultimakers.

Masters candidates are afraid of posting to arxiv?

Non-paywall version: [1]

Probably the way to deal with this is to have an exhaust system which keeps the build chamber below atmospheric pressure. Exhaust through a water air filter.[2] Water air filters work well on particles, but you have to keep dumping the dirty water and adding fresh water. They're not used much in HVAC or vacuum cleaners because they take a lot of blower power, but for a small 3D printer, where you're not moving much air, they should work.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsale... [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyEyO4iuz5E

Thanks, we changed the URL to that from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b04983.

That redirects to "http://pubs.acs.org/action/cookieAbsent", probably because I'm blocking some cookie or tracker. That's a bit much for the American Chemical Society, which is supposed to be an academic organization, not a source of clickbait.

Yes but then aren't you polluting the water? Where are you going to dump the water? Recently legislation was passed to ban micro particles from abrasive soaps and creams because they ended up in the water supply from people flushing them down the drains.

See: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313157701/why-those-tiny-micro...

This does not seem like a real solution, it only moves the problem somewhere else.

"Microbeads" are generally from 10 micrometers to 1 millimeter in diameter. [0] Ultrafine particles are less than 100 nanometers in diameter. [1] So while there could be environmental effects from ultrafine particles, the analogy to microbeads isn't necessarily correct.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbead [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultrafine_particle

There's biodegradable ABS [1] but it's not clear that it would degrade much in water.

[1] http://3dprintingindustry.com/2015/08/14/biodegradable-abs-f...

Also this: http://www.hvacinsider.com/national/tech--case-study-taking-...

"The initial approach was to fabricate an acrylic hood that would be placed above the urinalysis workstations and would vent odors directly outside. However, city officials would not permit the laboratory to ventilate the captured air to the outdoors. This prompted Vantari and the IQAir team to focus on air filtration instead of ventilation."

Is that site run by IQAir? That reads like a PR.

To the hardware hackers reading this:

It probably wouldn't be terrible idea to take a page from Beijing residents and keep an air filter around.

http://www.amazon.com/Honeywell-Long-Life-QuietCare-Purifier... works to 0.3um particle size.

Even better would be an actual fume hood if you're serious. They're a good idea if you like to solder stuff, too...

0.3um is too big, the particles referred to in the article are <0.1um.

You're right! The article concerns Ultra-Fine Particles.


A HEPA filter will still do some good, though, and 0.3um is about as small as can reasonably be found on consumer-level filters.

See http://sentryair.com/blog/tag/hepa-for-ufp/

Edit: From the article:

  As you can see in the photos the 3D printer produced over 
  190,000 particles of varying sizes.

  After the Model 300 pulled the particle-laden air through 
  its HEPA filter, the scanner detected 0 particles at the 
  unit’s air output.

IQAir HealthPro Plus claims 0.003 and honestly, I believe it. Disclaimer: I work for them but my opinions are my own and backed by some really great science/technology.

Cool! $1000 for a "Hyper HEPA" filter.

Maybe a good insurance investment for the company with a room full of 3D printers... after they pay for the HVAC guy to come in and install some real exhaust ventilation duct work.

Just want to point out that any company can use the word "HEPA" as there is really no industry standard/federal minimum for what it means to be HEPA. So you can basically have a paper towel in the back of a fan and call it a HEPA filter.

Can you expand on this? It does look like there are HEPA specifications[0]. Are you saying that a product that doesn't meet those standards can still legally be labeled as HEPA? Yikes!

[0] E.G., http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/06/f1/doe-std-3020-2... and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HEPA#Specifications

Hi! Sorry for the late response.

You are mostly correct. However, per your links, using "HEPA" with any prefix or suffix is problematically allowed. The specifications laid out by the DOE are mostly for DOE facilities and so they have their own version. Everyone else is using their own brand of "-HEPA-" which can mean <0.003 pm or not and is therefore misleading.

Thanks for the response! To make sure I understand this correctly: If I find a product labeled as "HEPA" (w/o a prefix or suffix such as "type," "like", "style," and "99%") then I can be assured that the product does meet the standard of removing 99.97% of particles that have a size of 0.3 µm?

I'm considering to buy an IQAir and I also buy their arguments.

But I was surprised when I saw The Wirecutter review:


Korean machines seemed to perform as well as IQAir and BlueAir, and they are quite cheaper (and use more efficient engines). Any comments?

I've owned a bunch of air filters but I like the IQAir ones the best. IQAir machines are built around a very heavy-duty prefilter that traps all the hair, dust, and large particles (maybe pollen-size?). The HEPA filter thus only gets a stream of tiny particles, so it lasts quite a while. Other models I've used (Plasmacluster, Rabbitair) do fine with brand-new filters but quickly accumulate dust that you have to vacuum out, and even then, the HEPA filter is probably already ruined. They also aren't sealed as well, so you don't get to hold up your particle counter to the exhaust and see a nice "0". (But the particle count in the room does decrease versus not running them, so they do do something.)

The IQAir machines don't need any maintenance other than buying new filters when it tells you to. If you are trying to save money, don't buy IQAir.

I try to evaluate effectiveness qualitatively and quantitatively. When I first got an air filter for my bedroom, I noticed that suddenly I didn't feel like coughing all night long. When I got the IQAir for my bedroom, I woke up the next morning with a sore throat because the back of my throat was totally dry. My chronic post-nasal drip was gone. It could have been my imagination, so I bought a laser particle counter to measure the particle count in my room. It was 0. (And it's counting the sub-micron particles.)

(There are some caveats. Moving around in bed is particle city, so you're not breathing 100%-fresh air all night. But the filters take care of things very quickly, and I run them on a high setting, and they're close to my bed. You'll need earplugs. Air filters on the "silent" setting do approximately nothing. This was not a problem for me because I've slept with earplugs for years due to annoying cats. Now I can't sleep without them, the sound of sheets moving against each other is annoying :)

Really glad you like our product. I will admit it is pretty expensive, but as you've said, your particle count will get to almost 98% of less than what was originally lurking in your rooms. That is nowhere near what other air purifiers can do.

When I first joined the company, I was told not to put it on full blast the first night otherwise your mouth will become dry. It still blows my mind that people experience that.

I keep mine on throughout the night as well, but I have definitely noticed the sound doesn't have the humming sound as opposed to other air purifiers. It is a much quieter, fan like sound.

Yeah, it's definitely not as annoying as other models I've tried. The RabbitAir one has a really annoying high-frequency component that prevents me from running it on its highest setting even with earplugs.

Now I just need to buy a house so I can get a Perfect 16 installation and move the noisemaking equipment out of my bedroom.

You need to have a much better filter than 0.3um as has been pointed out by others. I simply didn't like the smell of the ABS (PLA is fine) so I put mine in a laminar flow cabinet originally configured for down flow to keep silicon wafers clean in fab transport. I reversed the filtering system so it pulls the fumes from the printer through the filter which is good to 0.1um. Of course it's a bit silly because the cabinet and filter was originally 10x the price of my MakerBot ToM but I picked it up for cheap at a local electronics surplus store. Here's a picture:


> “Compared to other domestic sources of UFPs, the 3D printing using PLA had a similar UFP emission to cooking using an electric frying pan. Using ABS resulted in UFP emissions similar to those from grilling food on a gas or electric stove at low power.”

So should we also be avoiding rooms where people are cooking?

The particle types are different, and people generally don't leave their stove running for eight hours a day.

But, in my experience, both kitchens and hobbyist 3d printers can produce piles of spaghetti very easily.

Clearly, the next step is to combine the technologies and 3D print pasta.

Oops, looks like I'm behind the times: http://www.3ders.org/articles/20150505-pasta-maker-barilla-t...

Maybe if they're cooking plastic.

You can get a fume hood for cooking as well as for soldering.

You mean an extractor fan?

Why would I want to suck up those delicious solder fumes?

We've got a room at work that's filled with different breeds of 3D printer. Luckily this room is kind of special in that there's no ceiling, which would allow fresh air to come and go from the rest of the building.

It sounds like particles may spread to the whole building then. A ventilation outlet close would be better.

What keeps rain/elements out. Also while this helps it's not a solution for ultrafine particles.

I think OP means it is open to the area above the ceilings in the rest of the rooms, but still is beneath the roof.

This has definitely been discussed here before; if you're worried, it's generally agreed that PLA fumes/particles are much safer.

My understanding is that PLA safety has been established at ambient temperature (and it is safe). Consequences of exposure to heated PLA is still an unknown.

Personally, I would only use 3D printers in well ventilated areas. I would also not eat from 3D printed food utensils, even though some of the stuff people have designed look fabulous.

there are plenty of good reasons not to eat off of 3D printed materials (impossibility of cleaning/sterilizing them properly), fear about the properties changing due to heating the PLA seems weird since any plastic you interact with has almost certainly been heated at some point. by the time you're inhaling these particles, they're not going to be much (if at all) warmer than room temperature.

laser printer has similar pollution issues too

I wonder if this could be solved temporarily by simply placing the 3D printer in a clear plastic trash bag -- or would that lead to overheating?

Actually, lots of 3D printers have a box in which the process takes place, so the temperature stays relatively constant, both in time and through the piece being made.

The study reported that even the tested devices which were enclosed still emitted plenty of VOCs:

"Interestingly, the presence of an enclosure only moderately reduced UFP emission rates from the MakerBot–ABS combination, with a ∼35% reduction in the median emission rate (although this variation is within the estimate of uncertainty). Larger reductions were not observed, perhaps because the enclosure was not completely sealed and large gaps were visible. While these two comparisons provide preliminary data on how printed shape and presence of an enclosure may impact particle emissions from 3D printers, no other definitive conclusions can be drawn given this limited data set."

Many enclosures are not fully sealed. It makes a huge difference if the enclosure is air tight.

If they're "ultrafine particles" you'd think they'd just blow around once the cover was removed think dust in a sunbeam.

My father has a lung disease called IPF (terminal) which is scarring of the lungs it occurs over time from various particles. He was a blue collar worker exposed to various fine particles; sawdust, welding fumes, grinding metal, paint, probably some asbestos insulation etc. at his place work over the decades which caused small amounts of damage each year.

Lungs are not to be messed with they're so delicate and lung cancer isn't the worst fatal lung disease you can get.

The very small stuff doesn't blow around like dust. For one once they stick on to something they're very hard to remove. Unlike normal "dust" you can't wipe them easily or blow them away.

Does this apply to the newer DLP-based 3D printers that "pull" an object out of a pool of resin? Since there are no nozzles, it seems like that method of 3D printing would probably be safer.

I'm guessing not, but the resin liquids do have their own concerns. They're certainly not friendly chemicals; the ones I've been exposed to seem to stick to your hands quite well, and irritate mucuous membranes (don't scratch your eye or pick your nose unless you've very thoroughly washed your hands with soap and water).

Can something like an Ionic Breeze type system work? Or does it have to be HEPA? Frankly, the smell alone makes me want to enclose it in acrylic and use a HEPA + carbon + fan.

i wonder if there is ground for similar concern in photolithographic 3d printing

i think it is a more promising technology than the more populace popular extruder fdm

i'd love to see the peachy(o) team run similar tests

(o) http://www.peachyprinter.com/

I was expecting such a discussion to come up at some point since 3D printers become more widely available. This being said, while the exposure is likely lower, one should also be careful of all the dust that's emitted by your PC/Monitor (including TVs) since it's composed of heavy metals, plastics, solvents and other not so friendly organic compounds - breathing them over a long time is unlikely to be completely harmless.

Most of the dust inside computers is trapped from the surrounding environment, and not coming from the equipment itself. Therefore most dust from inside domestic and office based equipment is dead skin. That being said there will be trace amounts of other contaminants.

Interesting, but being cynical: sounds like a great excuse for politicians to jump on and regulate them for "health reasons".. Pay no attention to the corporate copyright trolls behind them though.

Just like with "drones" - it might impede big manufacturers, but hobbyist will keep doing it.

Also, after "print-a-gun" plans released, nothing major happened. So I hope common sense will prevail.

I'd like you to fill me in, are there actual corporate copyright trolls concerned about 3D printing? Or is this a hypothetical? (Sorry, I haven't kept up with the state of maker stuff.) What I mean is this an actual real-world issue today?

If this is a hypothetical, please take this in the best possible way and bear in mind that you were downvoted, your comment is currently light-grey to me: personally just to me it sounds like you're preparing in advance to be in the wrong, i.e. you're preparing a moral and legal position for something that doesn't exist yet, nobody cares about 3D printed coprights ,but even though it doesn't exist yet you've already chosen the wrong side and have started to prepare snide, snark, and incorrect arguments so that you could defend being in the wrong - and that you can't wait to start being in the wrong. If this is the case, then you would be the troll in the conversation. It's just how I personally read your comment.

But before we get ahead of ourselves - is this a future argument (are you ahead of your time), or has it started to be an issue already? can you give references?

Sorry if I was hard in the middle paragraph, I've just literally never heard of a 3D printing copyright troll. I've just googled it and got some hypothetical articles from 2012.

My own perspective is that society has a choice between, on the one hand: (A) letting some designer put 5,000 hours of work into designing something intricate thing that grants people huge amounts of utility, it's a fanstatic achievement that costs you $0.27 in plastic to print at home and gives you real benefits - but they rae charging $4.99 on Steam for the privilege, while addressing some level of piracy; and (B) on the one hand, the status quo where you don't get the utility (let's value at it $80) from the $0.27 piece of plastic, because nobody has designed it for you.

It seems to me right now the status quo is (B). Obviously lots of great stuff could be made and 3d printed for pennies, that nobody has designed. Some guy designed a fully working tourbillon watch. (more like clock) Look at how he brazenly puts his name/logo on it http://hackaday.com/2016/01/11/3d-printed-tourbillon-clock/

Do you think he shouldn't have any level of copyright protection on these projects, if he wants it? Really?

I'm just kind of angry because you're showing a level of entitlement over something that doesn't even exist yet. people don't really get lots of benefit from 3d printing intricately designed works at home.

I'm more talking about control of self printing and use of baubles, etc ala Mickey Mouse figurines or whatever. There's already laws covering sale of copyrighted designs, so I'm referring about gov't and corporate control and regulation of printing, devices, etc.

I don't quite understand. You think I should just be able to print an Iron Man toy someone designs, maybe paying them directly for the privilege (of their designs), without the legitimate copyright owner having any say in the matter, and the person I buy it from having absolutely no right to sell those derivate works? I still don't see how the legit copyright owner is the troll in this conversation...

I realize you're shifting over to the technology side - what's your specific objection? And, is it a hypothetical? Or is this something that is actually happening?

Thanks for taking the time to respond to me. I just feel like you're arguing against a hypothetical that hasn't happened. It's like, you are creating a new non-existent debate just so you can be wrong about it. I realize this sounds extremely mean of me, but hopefully we can understand each other through this conversation. Thanks for your replies.

I think the worry is that 3D printers themselves may become regulated, beyond the current state of copyright laws.

Consider the VCR as a historical example. It's illegal to use it to bootleg copyrighted movies, but legal to use it for your own materials. However, the copyright lobby tried to shut down VCR sales entirely, and this case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court before being decided in favor of VCRs.

I imagine some people are afraid that 3D printers might end up in a similar situation, perhaps with less favorable court rulings or legislators. Modern technology also opens up other options, such as requiring all 3D printers to include DRM technology.

I don't know how likely any of this is, but the worries don't seem completely out there.

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