Some 3D printed objects are toxic, study reveals [Video]

By @iamkarlatecson on
3D printing
A 3D printing professional controls the progress of his creation during a 3D printing show in Brussels, Belgium, October 18, 2015. Reuters/Eric Vidal

A new study found that some 3D print materials are toxic, after observing that zebrafish embryos die at alarming rates when exposed to them.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside said that the study's results call attention to efforts in regulating the materials used to create 3D printed parts, which are often unknown. The study raises the need to take a step back and question the safety of these materials, according to William Grover, an assistant professor of bioengineering in the Bourns College of Engineering. 

For their research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, the team studied two common types of 3D printers: one that melts plastic to build a part and another that uses light to turn a liquid into a solid part. Parts from the liquid-based printer proved to be more toxic, according to the researchers.

After using each printer to create disc-shaped parts about an inch in diameter, Shirin Mesbah Oskui, a graduate student in Grover’s lab, placed the discs in petri dishes with zebrafish embryos, studied their survival rates and hatch rates and monitored them for developmental abnormalities.

On the third day, the team found that more than half of the embryos exposed to parts from the liquid-resin printer had died. A week after the experiment, all embryos turned up dead. Meanwhile, the embryos exposed to parts from the plastic-melting printer had slightly decreased average survival rates compared with control embryos. 

The researchers also noted that of the few zebrafish embryos that hatched after exposure to parts from the liquid-resin printer, 100 percent of the hatchlings had developmental abnormalities.

After this discovery, Oskui also investigated methods for reducing the toxicity of parts from the liquid-resin printer. She found that after exposing the parts to ultraviolet light for one hour, the parts are significantly less toxic to zebrafish embryos. 

For their next steps, the researchers plan to further study the toxicity of the components of the 3D printer material both individually and when mixed together in a completed part. They also want to find out at what level the material could be harmful to humans.

They are also looking into the proper disposal of the waste material created by 3D printers. At this point, the researchers think it is best to take it to a hazardous waste centre.

The new research comes with the soaring popularity of 3D printers, valued at $2.5 billion in 2013 from just $288 million in 2012. The field is projected to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018, according to a report by Canalys.

As the price of 3D printers continues to drop, they are also moving beyond industry and research labs to homes and small businesses. “These 3D printers are like tiny factories in a box. We regulate factories. We would never bring one into our home. Yet, we are starting to bring these 3D printers into our homes like they are toasters,” Grover said.

Source: YouTube/Univ. of California, Riverside

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