OffBeat

Go figure: 3D printing indoors can be bad for your health

Image Credit: Flickr/Gavin Tapp

Here’s a tip for anyone considering opening up a 3D printing factory in their basement: Crack open a window.

Fumes from 3D printers can, over time, be hazardous to your health, according to a paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. The researchers compare operating a 3D printer in a non- ventilated area to smoking a cigarette indoors.

“These results suggest caution should be used when operating some commercially available 3D printers in unventilated or inadequately filtered indoor environments,” the researchers say.

To which the wider 3D printing community replies: “No duh.”

The question of the 3D printing’s safety hazards is not a new one. Shapeways, for instance, outfits its factory workers with full safety gear, including masks and gloves. The difference — and is where the report is on the mark — is that most regular people probably aren’t going to take similar precautions while printing in their living rooms. That’s just human nature.

As an aside: ABS and PLA, the two most common plastics used in printers like MakerBot’s Replicator, offer very different smelling experiences. ABS is largely unpleasant: It’s sharp, punishing, and will probably make you cough if you’re using it in a non-ventilated space. PLA is very different: 3D printer owners say it smells faintly of waffles or even honey.

What’s worth noting, too, is how little 3D printer makers say about the potential health hazards attached to home 3D printers. The user manual for the MakerBot Replicator 2 (PDF) doesn’t say anything about fumes, and the online safety documentation for the device is more concerned with the temperature of its extruder, not the odors attached to its output.

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