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Environmental Health & Safety

Occupational Safety Unit

3D Printer Considerations

We are beginning to see an increase in the number and repetitive use of 3D printers in research as well as office/shop locations. EHS has reviewed the use of benchtop FDM/FFF (filament) 3D printers. If any new type of printer or novel uses with additional potential hazards is being considered, please contact EHS for an assessment prior to use (x53241). Some examples of printers needing EHS assessment are use of metal powders, laser, UV light, and biologics. Also, if a corrosive bath is needed for removal of support material, then EHS needs to be contacted prior to use.

Caution must be observed when operating many printers and filament combinations in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces or without the aid of gas and particulate filtration systems. 3D printers emit both ultrafine particles (UFP) and volatile organic compounds (VOCís). Therefore, the following ventilation requirements for 3D printer locations should be implemented:

  • 3D printers are best placed in a limited occupancy location, such as a single purpose laboratory or specialty shop location so others are not potentially exposed to UFP/VOC releases.
  • The ventilation system for the location should allow for directional air flow to minimize airborne generated UFP/VOCs from being released into the locationís room air.
  • If the 3D printer has an exhaust port, a duct leading the exhaust towards the roomís local exhaust system (i.e., chemical fume hood) or the non-recirculated general exhaust system should be used.
  • The ventilation rate for 3D printers in lab locations will be dictated by the exhaust ventilation for the fume hood and/or other local exhaust systems but must be at least 8 air changes per hour.
  • Because 3D printers operate for multiple hours for each printing, the room/lab should not be operated with an occupancy sensor. Operating with an occupancy sensor might allow the buildup of UFP/VOCs in the location because the ventilation rate may revert to the non-occupancy setting of the location.
  • EH&S will periodically monitor for UFPs to verify the directional air flows assist in the removal of the UFPs generated.

In addition to the ventilation requirements, the following recommendations are to be met:

  • Follow manufacturerís instructions and safety data sheet for specific details on safe handling
  • When possible, purchase enclosed models of 3D printers. Enclosed models have smaller particle plumes and therefore will reduce potential employee exposure.
  • No eating, drinking, applying cosmetics, or handling contact lenses in area of 3D printers
  • Wash hands thoroughly after working with 3D printers
  • Any visible surface dust in and around 3D printer should be cleaned using wet cloth/sponge/wipe or a HEPA vacuum (do NOT use dry cloth or sweeping which can get particles airborne)
  • Anyone working with 3D printers needs to have Hazard Communication training and review the safe handling requirements and content of safety data sheets

Listed below are some articles addressing the need for ventilation in locations where 3D printers are used. Unfortunately, little information is currently available on the health hazards from UFP. Because there are a variety of 3D manufacturers, different filaments (i.e. ABS white, PLA red, ABS red, PLA white, ABS blue, nylon, laybrick, polycarbonate, PCTPE, and T-Glase), different extruding temperatures (i.e. 190-270C), and different bed temperatures (i.e. 45-110C), there is a general lack of information concerning the appropriate ventilation rate. UFP emissions have been recorded to release up to 1011 particles per minute, but there has been no acceptable limit established for UFP. VOC emissions show that some 3D printers release styrene, a possible human carcinogen and caprolactam, presently rated as probably not carcinogenic to humans. One study measured styrene concentration at about 20 times greater than levels found in commercial or US residences measured in an EPA study, but orders of magnitude below the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).

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QUESTIONS or COMMENTS?
Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 8/12/2016. Disclaimer.