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3D printers have a dirty secret

Posting in Environment

Before you buy that amazing desktop 3D printer, know this: that mini-factory-in-a-box could be harmful to your health.

Researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology have found, for the first time, that commercially available desktop 3D printers -- which are now cheaper and easier than ever to purchase for your home or office -- are "high emitters" of ultrafine particles.

But while the two different types of 3D printers that were tested can both be considered "high emitters," as Phys.org points out, one type is expelling more indoor air pollution than the other. It's the higher temperature 3D printer that uses acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) feedstock that puts out 200 billion particles per minute when in use. The other 3D printer tested used lower temperature polylactic acid (PLA) feedstock and put out about 20 billion particles per minute.

Either way, the elevated levels of ultrafine particles have serious health implications from "cardio-respiratory mortality" to stroke to asthma symptoms.

The problem is that, unlike a factory setting, 3D printers that are sold for homes are standalone devices without ventilation systems or filtration accessories to limit indoor air pollution. As the researchers put it: "These results suggests caution should be used when operating some commercially available 3D printers in unvented or inadequately filtered indoor environments."

That could at least slow down the idea that 3D printers will soon become a fixture on all our desks. And while it's been a good year for desktop 3D printers, this news could take the shine out of that newly printed plastic prototype.

Read more: Atmospheric Environment

Photo: Flickr/kakissel

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— By on July 25, 2013, 1:07 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure