While industrial 3D printers often use ventilation shafts and filters to evacuate airborne particles, commercially available printers are often set up in environments with little or no thought about the emissions they might be kicking out. In a new study looking into the particle emissions of home printers, researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology identified that the operation of such devices in unventilated areas could potentially lead to health issues.

Popular home printers were classified as high emitters

To conduct the test, Brent Stephens and his team used five models of popular 3D printers at Chicago-based 3D Printer Experience. The study doesn't note the models used, the company advertises use of the UP Mini and MakerBot Replicator. According to the report, models using both ABS and PLA polymers as a plastic feedstock were classed as "high emitters" of ultrafine particles (UFPs), reporting similar emission rates (output, not toxicity) to the operation of a laser printer or the burning of a cigarette.

Because of their size, UFPs can be deposited in the lungs and absorbed directly into the bloodstream. High concentrations of UFPs have been linked to lung cancer, strokes, and the development of asthma symptoms. The study doesn't detail the chemical constituents of ABS and PLA emissions, but ABS has previously been shown to have toxic effects, while PLA is a biocompatible polymer that has been widely used in drug delivery.

For now, researchers believe users should be cautious when operating 3D printers in "unvented or inadequately filtered indoor environments." They also call for more experiments be conducted on a wider range of commercial printers, allowing experts to better understand the toxicity of particle emissions from devices and feedstocks currently in use.