3D printers are TOXIC to humans as they emit tiny plastic particles that can cause lung damage — with children under nine most at risk, experts warn 

  • 3D printers work by depositing material layer-by-layer to build a complete object
  • They are increasingly been used in settings like homes, schools and libraries
  • Experts from the US found that the machines release tiny particles into the air
  • If inhaled, these are able to penetrate deep into the lungs and harm human cells 

Tiny plastic particles that can cause cancer are emitted by 3D printers — with such being the most toxic to children under the age of nine, experts have warned.

The printers work be depositing successive layers of thermoplastics, metals, nanomaterials, polymers, slowly building up a complete object.

The global 3D printing market was worth an estimated £8.71 billion last year — a figure increasing as more people purchase printers for their own homes. 

Researchers from the US, however, have found that the devices pose an unexpected health risk — in addition to their known contribution to plastic pollution.

During the hours it can take to complete a print, various particulates and chemical by-products can be released into the surrounding environment. 

The findings are more concerning in light of the growing uptake of the devices in schools and libraries — along with recently use of 3D printers to make face shields.

Tiny plastic particles that can cause cancer are emitted by 3D printers — with such being the most toxic to children under the age of nine, experts have warned.

In one study, the particles emitted from the high-tech printing machines were found to be able to penetrate deep into the lungs, where they damage human cells.

While another investigation found — by means of a simulation model — that children aged nine and under are particularly vulnerable to the chemicals released.

‘To date, the general public has little awareness of possible exposures to 3D printer emissions,’ said Environmental Protection Agency expert Peter Byrley.

‘A potential societal benefit of this research is to increase public awareness of 3D printer emissions and of the possibly higher susceptibility of children.’

A recent study of the impacts of 3D printing, meanwhile, concluded that the decreasing costs associated with the fabrication technique is adding to the number of plastic producers presently polluting the planet.

Duke University chemical engineer Joana Marie Sipe developed a tool that can determine how manty plastic particles can be released by regular products due first to natural wear and tear, and subsequent degradation in the natural environment.

The so-called ‘Matrix Release Factor’ may be used to evaluate how much plastic and nanoparticles are released when someone chews a product, or when it breaks down in the ocean.

‘This research can help set regulations on how much nanomaterial fillers can be added to particular consumer products, based on their Matrix Release Factor value,’ explained Ms Sipe.

‘The data can help determine how much plastic and/or nano-filled products release contaminants into the environment or the human body.’

The full findings of the studies were presented at the 2020 Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting, which is being held virtually from December 13–17, 2020. 


First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of making an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.

Similarly to how an inkjet printer adds individual dots of ink to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where it is needed, based on a digital file.

Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting away excess materials to make a part, and this can lead to wastage of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for every one pound of useful material, according to the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

By contrast, with some 3D printing processes about 98 per cent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastics and metal powders, with some experimenting with chocolate and other food, as well as biomaterials similar to human cells.

3D printers have been used to manufacture everything from prosthetic limbs to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:

· Creating a 3D blueprint using computer-aided design (CAD) software

· Preparing the printer, including refilling the raw materials such as plastics, metal powders and binding solutions.

· Initiating the printing process via the machine, which builds the object.

· 3D printing processes can vary, but material extrusion is the most common, and it works like a glue gun: the printing material is heated until it liquefies and is extruded through the print nozzle

· Using information from the digital file, the design is split into two-dimensional cross-sections so the printers knows where to put the material

· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimetre (0.004 inches) thick.

· The polymer rapidly solidifies, bonding to the layer below before the build platform lowers and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the entire process can take anywhere from minutes to days.)

· After the printing is finished, every object requires some post-processing, ranging from unsticking the object from the build platform to removing support, to removing excess powders. 

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