A Berkeley, California couple, Roger Morash and Valerie Morash, and their two cats died from poisoning due to the couple’s laser 3D printer, which was ventilating carbon monoxide into their residence. They were found dead by a friend inside their apartment on Monday. Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology are warning users against the potential dangers of 3D printers for home use. When used in industry, the machine’s use of lasers on types of plastics can emit toxic gasses, including carbon monoxide.
According to a study, reported in the Chicago Tribune, completed by a team at the Illinois Institute of Technology, typical desktop 3D printers emit particles and compounds during printing that federal agencies say could cause cancer or other ailments.
The study, published last month, looked at five types of commercially available 3D printers that print with nine different materials.
The study’s leader, Brent Stephens, an assistant professor in Illinois Tech’s department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, said exposure should be limited.
“A good chunk of printers and filaments that are out there we really should be worried about,” he said. “I think the way people are introducing these into schools and libraries … that’s what should drive some of the concern.”
The problem, Stephens said, is that the ultrafine particles emitted by the printers, aren’t often regulated. People breathe in ultrafine particles all the time — from things like car exhaust, cigarette smoke and cooking — but it’s the type of particles being emitted that should raise eyebrows, he said.
The 3D printers in the study that used a material called ABS filament (the plastic Legos are made of), emitted a particle called styrene, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified as a possible carcinogen. It also found that 3D printers using four other types of materials (nylon, PCTPE, laybrick and laywood), emitted large amounts of caprolactam, which can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They are small enough not to be caught by our nose hairs when we breathe them in,” he said. “Not all printers emitted huge, huge amounts, but about half of ours did emit in what we could call a high emitter category … so that’s a little worrisome.”
The study suggests fixing the problem during manufacturing, since many users of 3D printers likely won’t want to invest in installing a large ventilation system in their offices or homes. Manufacturers should look to create printing materials that won’t emit harmful particles when heated, or introduce a filtration system to 3D printers, the study said.
Peter Orris, chief of occupational and environmental medicine for the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, said society should take time to study the effects of new technologies as they roll out to the public. “We ought to be taking a precautionary approach, especially in this setting when we are dealing with chemicals we know something about.”