A new study from the University of California, Riverside (UCR) has found that some 3D-printed materials are toxic. The tests were conducted on fish embryos, and the results could lead to a rethink of regulations surrounding 3D printed-materials.
3D printers are more popular than ever, with the technology being used to create everything from running shoes to supercars. Given the increasingly widespread use, a team of researchers believes that greater attention should be paid to how potentially harmful common 3D printing materials may be.
For the UCR study, the researchers looked at two different types of printer – one that uses light to turn liquid into solids, and a more cost-effective type that melts plastic to create structures. Specifically, they worked with a Stratasys Dimension Elite – which uses the melted plastic method – and a Form 1+ from Formlabs – a liquid resin model.
The project started somewhat by accident, when UCR assistant professor William Grover purchased a 3D printer to help with his lab research, working with zebrafish embryos. Things didn't go very well, with a graduate student in the lab noticing that the embryos were actually dying after being exposed to 3D-printed parts.
This discovery, quite naturally, led to a full study on the toxicity of 3D-printed materials, with the two test printers being used to create 1-in (2.5 cm)-diameter plastic disks. These were then placed in petri dishes containing zebrafish embryos, the survival rates and hatch rates of which were then monitored.
The parts made from both types of printer had negative effects on the rates, though it was much more pronounced with the liquid resin printed materials, with more than half the embryos dead within three days, and all having perished by the time a full week had passed. Not only did it kill off the existing embryos, but 100 percent of those that hatched exhibited developmental abnormalities.
The study didn't just look at the negatives here though, but also examined possible solutions. Attempting to reduce the toxicity of the liquid resin-produced parts, the researchers exposed them to ultraviolet light for an hour. Once that was complete, they found the parts to be significantly less toxic, so much so in fact that UCR has filed a patent for the work.
The popularity of 3D printers is at an all-time high, with the market predicted to be worth some $16.8 billion by 2018. In light of that, the researchers believe that their study highlights the need for better regulation of the 3D printing industry. Currently, the precise materials used to create 3D-printed parts aren't always disclosed by manufacturers, so it's difficult to accurately assess the risk they pose.
"Many people, including myself, are excited about 3D printing," says Grover. "But, we really need to take a step back and ask how safe are these materials?".
The researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. For more on the study, you can check out the video below.