Environmental Health & Safety

3D Printing Health & Safety Guide

3D Printing: What is it?

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology which has revolutionized rapid prototyping and small-scale manufacturing by making it easier and more accessible. Initially, a virtual design is created and stored by computer-aided design (CAD) with 3D modeling software, and/or by using a 3D scanning device.  Once a design model is created, a 3D printer will print the image by laying down definitive, discreet layers, to create the object, layer-by-layer.

Studies have indicated that 3D printers are capable of generating potentially harmful concentrations of ultrafine particles (UFP) and chemical vapors during the print process and through processes used post-printing to treat the finished product.     


   Image result for 3d printer fff Related image                                        

The University of California, Riverside (UCR) Environmental Health & Safety is beginning to identify an increase in the number and repetitive use of 3D printers in research as well as office/shop locations. We have reviewed the use of benchtop Fused deposition modeling® (FDM) /Fused filament fabrication (FFF) and Stereolithograph Apparatus (SLA)/ Digital Light Processing (DLP) type 3D printers. If any new type of printer or novel uses with additional potential hazards is being considered, please review the Laboratory Hazard Assessment Tool (LHATor contact EHS for an assessment prior to use (951-827-5528). Some examples of printers needing EHS assessment are use of metal powders and biologics. Also, if a corrosive bath is needed for removal of support material and disposal of subsequent waste, then EHS needs to be contacted prior to use.

Main hazards associated with 3D printing?

The hazards associated with 3D printing are related to the processes and technologies applied.  These exposures can be hazards associated with ultraviolet light (UV)/ laser beams, burns from molten materials, electrical/shock, electromechanical force, High magnetic field and to health hazards associated with inhalation of ultrafine and/or toxic smoke, fumes and dusts.  Setting up 3D printers requires the consideration of various hazards intrinsic to the type technology/application, and the specific work environment where installation is taking place.The American Society for testing and Materials (ASTM) is established to define standards in “Additive Manufacturing”.   

The industry has classified additive manufacturing processes into seven categories including:

• Material Extrusion-most commonly delivers plastic filament or metal wire to a heated nozzle; filament materials often include: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)resin, or polylactic acid (PLA). Also some of this technologies uses High Magnetic Fields to employ movements in its X-Y plane

• Vat Photo-Polymerization- uses a vat of liquid photopolymer resin, out of which the model is constructed layer by layer and then hardened using ultra-violet light source

• Binder Jetting-powder base material and liquid binder (gluing agent) material are applied depositing alternating layers of the build material and the binding material

• Material Jetting-material droplets are applied through a small diameter nozzle either a continuous or Drop on Demand (DOD) approach, then hardened by UV light.

• Directed Energy Deposition-Predominantly used in high-tech metal industry and rapid manufacturing applications 

• Sheet Lamination-Sheet materials are bound together with external force, like ultrasonic welding

• Powder Bed Fusion-uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of plastic to form a three-dimensional shape


What are some specific hazards associated with 3D printing processes?

 Inhalation and related systemic exposure to hazardous agents

Many 3D printing processes use thermoplastics and other materials, which are heated, extruded, and/or fused using high energy sources.  These processes emit ultrafine particle clouds and fumes in the nanoparticle range, (i.e. 1/10,000 millimeter or sub-micron range). For example in NIOSH study, 3D printing via material extrusion by means of polylactic acid (PLA) feedstocks and with relatively low-temperature, desktop applications can generate in excess of 20 billion particles per minute.  Higher temperature acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) feedstocks can release in excess of 200 billion particles per minute.  Nanoparticles are of concern because they are very small, have large surface areas (low density) and can readily penetrate, interact with, and/or traverse the body’s systems (i.e. skin, lungs, nervous and brain tissues) at the cellular level.

Exposure to high concentrations of nanoparticles: has been associated with adverse health effects, including cardio-pulmonary and respiratory effects, cancer, asthma, and nervous system effects. While PLA feedstocks are intended to be non-toxic and compatible with biological tissues, there may be unknown effects at very high concentrations, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces.  The thermal decomposition products of ABS feedstock have been shown to have toxic effects on lab rodents.  These hazards may be significant, thus installation designs must consider the adequacy of exhaust ventilation or filtration.

Skin or respiratory irritant/sensitizers: certain thermoplastics and photopolymers (used in 3D printing) when activated by heat or Ultra Violet (UV) light may contain toxic or hazardous monomers.  U/V light may also pose a radiation hazard to the eyes or skin.

Biological material hazards: Life and/or Material Science applications involving biological materials, such as use of cells for engineered tissue generation, may expose persons to aerosols containing biological materials or bio-hazardous agents.  Appropriate biosafety and other engineering controls must be considered. 

Consult EH&S (951-827-5528) for assistance and support in determining required biosafety and/or engineering controls. EHS can also liaise the Office of Physical Plant Services for assistance and support in determining acceptable exhaust ventilation or filtration for a specific application. 

 There are also hazards associated with support materials

Support materials in the 3D print matrix may contain harmful agents (e.g. phenyl phosphates associated with thermoplastic acrylics).  These can be hazardous during use, and downstream waste handling.

 Powder resins and metals – Reactive and highly combustible powder metals, as well as other resinous materials may be used in powder bed or direct energy deposition processes.  These have applications in the construction of metal/alloy or other structural and functional tools and parts.  Finely divided metal powders, such as titanium and aluminum, as well as other resin powders can be spontaneously combustible (pyrophoric) causing fires. The user must eliminate sources of potential ignition and not store the powder materials in a manner which may contribute to an explosion hazard. Class D metal fire extinguishers are required with use of metal powders.  Users must follow specific manufacturer instructions and verify that electrical equipment and wiring are suited for the application. These applications use very high heat and may expose users to thermal injury, as well as potential inhalation of the powders or associated fumes.

Due to the hazardous nature of these materials and applications, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are required at a minimum especially when used in the Laboratory.  Contact the Facility Coordinator/Laboratory Safety Officer (LSO) or Environmental Health & Safety to verify SOP’s are incorporated into department Specific Plans for the research area.  Consult the 3D printer manufacturer website to locate Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to identify and evaluate the specific health and safety hazards associated with the 3D print materials used.

In addition to health hazards, examples of equipment specific hazards may include:

• Hot surfaces – print head block, heated beds and UV lamp

• High Magnetic Field-High magnetic fields occur around the X and Y axis of specific 3D- printers  

• High voltage/Electric risk – UV lamp connector, electric outlet and ground wire.

• Ultraviolet radiation – UV lamp. Don’t look at the lamp; make sure UV screen is intact.

 • Moving parts – printing assembly.



General Safety for 3D Printer


1.      Discuss ALL issues or concerns regarding this 3D Printer with the PI prior to its use.

2.     All printers must be installed according to the manufacturer’s requirements and according to NFPA 72 National Electric Code.

3.     Always follow manufacturer guidelines, be cognizant of all of the SDS and safety information presented in this document.

4.    Consult LHAT and/or EH&S for a hazard assessment when considering modifications/ novel   uses.

5.    Notify coworkers before beginning non-routine and hazardous work. To work alone; facility  must have work alone protocol.

6.    To prevent respiratory irritation, work in a well ventilated room.

7.    Once a printing job is started, do not open cover, or defeat/override interlock switch.

8.    Printer should not be left unattended during operation for an extended period of time.

9.    If interlock safety switch fails, do not use the printer.

10.  As determined by the hazard assessment, in addition to all pertinent laboratory personal protective equipment (PPE) and chemical protective gloves may be required when accessing the printer stage area after printing.

11.  Uncured material may be hazardous; wear suitable/ recommended glove protection and if  material can splash, wear safety goggles.

12.  In the event of leak/ spill of printing material cartridges, use solvent-absorbent pads for model/ support material spills. Dispose clean-up materials as chemical waste.  Contact UCR EH&S 951-827-5528 when responding to any major spills.

13.  Keep model and support materials away from areas where cosmetics are applied, or food and  drink are stored, prepared or consumed.

14.  Follow all related SOPs in the laboratory SOP bank (PPE, waste disposal, etc. as  appropriately modified by any specific information in the SDS information presented in this document.


 Training Requirements

 All users working directly with a 3D print chemical/hazardous media outside of the laboratory are required to have hazard communication (HAZCOM) training covering any hazardous materials used in the process. Completion of the training must be documented in writing with the records maintained by the PI/Supervisor/manager of the printing operation.

 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Requirements

 Follow all PPE recommendations found in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the specific printer media used.

       Eye protection is required during any activity where airborne projectiles may be present (i.e. cutting off rough edges of a printed item).

       For print processes using an alkaline bath to dissolve support material, an emergency eyewash will be required in the immediate vicinity of the work.

       A spill kit capable of neutralizing the caustic components of the alkaline bath shall also be provided.







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