3D printers may be poisoning the very air you breathe. At least that's the possible findings of one study from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
The keywords to take note of here are "may" and "possible." The findings show a marked increase in the density of ultrafine particles (UFPs) in the air around desktop 3D printers using both ABS and PLA plastic feedstocks.
UFPs are of concern as their teeny-tiny size (in the scope of this study, those particles measuring smaller than 100 nanometers) allows them to easily enter the heart and lungs. Previous studies have documented how both plastic feedstocks can produce hazardous materials when they encounter high temperatures, such as those created by desktop 3D printers.
The researchers measured particle concentrations in the air of an office space belonging to an unnamed company that specializes in 3D printer education, training, and sales to the general public. The study found a large increase in the amount of UFPs around the machines over the course of one day's operation.
Put this in some perspective
So, how bad is the exposure of these materials? According to the report study, the total UFP emission rate for a single 3D printer using a PLA feedstock was similar to that from using an electric frying pan. The same 3D printer using an ABS feedstock exhibited far higher UFP emissions, similar to using a gas or electric stove.
The research team did not determine the exact chemical stew created by the printers, and only concluded that these devices should be classified as "high emitters." These findings are only of possible concern as the plastics used by these high-emitting machines can, as previously noted, create all sorts of nasty stuff at high temperatures.
More research is certainly needed.
Perhaps the takeaway for desktop creators is this: Be on the safe side and open a window.