Do 3D Printers Cause Cancer? Risk & What You Must Know!


Ordinary printers like the type you would use to print or copy a flier, have been linked with several harmful ill-effects. Numerous studies link the consistent use of printers to respiratory illnesses. 

One such study even goes as far as suggesting laser printers should come with a warning label. Laser printers, scientists at the Queensland University of Technology claim, produce particulate matter that is as harmful as cigarette smoke. 

If laser printers that print ink on paper are supposedly as harmful as cigarettes, what about 3D printers that print from plastic? 

If you have been printing for a while, you have probably noticed the strong smell your printer gives off when extruding plastic. Have you ever wondered if the fumes were toxic?

3D Printing Is Here To Stay

Can You Get Cancer From A Printer?

There are scientific studies that point to an increased risk of getting cancer from a 3D printer. This is as a result of prolonged exposure to particles from fumes emitted from heating thermoplastics. 

One such study identifies ultra fine particles as the biggest risk agent. According to the study, the risk of getting cancer from a 3D printer is 3.44 times higher than exposure to urban environmental pollution. Source 

We highly recommend using proper ventilation when 3d printing and 3d printer enclosure.

The “Creality Fireproof and Dustproof 3D Printer Warm Enclosure” is a popular and recommended ready-made option (Amazon Link)

For extra safety, you may want to opt to add a smoke detector to the enclosure. It cost only from 20 to 50$ USD but will buy you a great deal of peace of mind. Check out the “First Alert” (Amazon Link) Powered Alarm SCO5CN which detects both, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide and it is Battery Operated

This is the subject of this article. We want to closely examine how much harm a 3D printer can do to your health. Does a 3D printer give off radiation and can it cause cancer? 

If you want to know what you can do to reduce the risks associated with 3D printing, keep reading. In this guide we will share with you all the safety tips you need to start printing safely.

We also recommend that you check our post How Can 3d Printing Be Used in Education? Why Schools Should Use Them!

Are 3D Printers Harmful?

3D printers melt plastic to produce a print. Melting plastic releases Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Ultra Fine Particles (UFP) into the air. VOCs and UFPs are toxic fumes that are harmful when inhaled. 

There is also the risk of skin contact with hazardous materials such as solvents and resin. 3D printers also have a small risk of fire while waste from printing materials is harmful to the environment. 

Toxic fumes, skin contact, fire, and environmental hazards are the four main ways 3D printers can be harmful. Let’s look at each in detail in the following sections below. 

Toxic fumes

Filament contains volatile compounds that are released into the air around the printer when the plastic is melted. Most print jobs take several hours. Some will stretch over days. Over the course of a print run, the compounds accumulate. These compounds when inhaled into the lungs can have short term effects like causing nausea or headaches. 

One study links long term use of 3D printers to more serious health effects. According to the study, long term users run the risk of suffering from asthma and bronchitis. Source

PLA and ABS are the most popular filament types. In a study on the toxicity of 3D printing, researchers compared the toxicity of both. The study revealed that PLA was more toxic on a per-particle basis. However, because ABS emits more fumes, it has greater overall toxicity. Source

The study also found that filaments with higher extrusion temperatures produced the most emissions. Using this criterion suggests PETG (220 – 250°C),  Nylon (240 – 260°C) and Polycarbonate (270 – 310°C) produce more emissions since they have some of the highest extrusion temperatures.

We also highly recommend that you check out our post “Do 3D Printers Need To Be Vented? What Every Owner Must Know!

Skin contact

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most popular printing process where plastic is melted to produce a 3D print. Touching melted plastic can cause severe burns if you are not careful. This is one of the reasons why children and minors should not use a 3D printer unsupervised. 

Touching or ingesting print material is more harmful when working with resin printers. Stereolithography (SLA) is an alternative printing process to FDM. The raw material in SLA is a liquid resin which is more hazardous compared to the filament. 

Resin or the solvents used in post-processing should never be touched with bare hands hence the need for gloves when working with resin printers.

Fire hazard

Fire hazard is a remote possibility in 3D printing. Although rare, it can happen in the case of negligence or printer malfunction. FDM printers work at very high temperatures to melt filament down. Filament is flammable. Naturally, where high temperatures and flammable materials are involved, there is always a  risk of fire. 

This is one of the reasons why leaving your printer unattended without taking any safety precautions like remote monitoring is risky. 

Environmental hazard

3D-printed items are toxic to the environment. The nanoparticles produced as a 3D-printed object breaks down, and contaminate the environment. It also contaminates any organisms that come into contact with it. 

Studies around the effects of 3D printing on the health of users and the environment are still in their early days. There is still a lot of ground to cover to get definitive answers. For example, how much exposure or inhalation is safe or too much? One study puts this at an hour or less. Source

Do 3D Printers Emit Radiation?

3D printers do not give off harmful radiation. Some printers, however, use light to print. These are what are known as UV printers. They are so named because they use ultraviolet light, which is a form of radiation, to cure a print. 

UV radiation is given off by the lasers and lights used to cure the resin in a 3D printer. The biggest and most abundant source of UV radiation is of course the sun. Printers produce weak amounts of radiation. Most are directed at the print being cured. 

You have a higher chance of getting UV radiation poisoning from standing out in the sun than from exposure to a 3D printer. Generally, the lasers used in consumer goods are safe for use since they are not easily accessible.  

Does Resin 3D Printing Cause Cancer?

Resin printing carries with it a double hazard risk. The first risk is through directly handling the material. Resin is more toxic than filament and requires careful handling. The second risk stems from the fumes produced when printing with the material. Resin printing has a higher risk of long-term illness such as cancer compared to FDM printing. 

Unlike FDM printers which use raw material in a solid form, resin printers use a liquid raw material. Resin printers use a cocktail of monomers and oligomers that combine to become hardened plastic in a photochemical process. 

The resin produces a strong smell and a higher concentration of emissions during processing. Compared to FDM, emissions are up to 6 times higher for resin printing. Source

Not only is there a higher concentration of emissions but there is also a greater variety of toxic VOCs. Formaldehyde is one of the more dangerous chemicals you find in resin printing. This is why it is necessary to exercise more care when resin printing. 

For more on this, we highly recommend that you check out our post “Can 3D Printer Resin Cause Cancer? Mandatory Safety Measures!

sherifjallad

I am a very well experienced techie civil engineer who's extensively interested in 3D printing technology and even more captivated by the potential of 3D printing livable structures

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