3D printing has exploded in recent years and has rapidly gone from something in research labs to something people do at home, but some of the objects produced by commercial 3D printers could be toxic to your health and to the environment, according to new research.
The researchers studied two common types of 3D printers: one that melts plastic to build a part, and another that uses light to turn a liquid into a solid part. They found that parts from both types of printers were measurably toxic to zebrafish embryos.
"These 3-D printers are like tiny factories in a box," said William Grover, an assistant professor of bioengineering in the Bourns College of Engineering. "We regulate factories. We would never bring one into our home. Yet, we are starting to bring these 3-D printers into our homes like they are toasters."
The finding came about by accident. About a year ago, Grover bought a 3D printer for his lab and one of his graduate students wanted to use the printer in research on zebrafish embryos. However, she noticed that the zebrafish embryos were dying off rapidly and in total after exposure to parts from the 3-D printer.
Embryos exposed to parts from the plastic-melting printer had slightly decreased average survival rates compared to control embryos, the embryos exposed to parts from the liquid-resin printer had significantly decreased survival rates. More than half of the embryos were dead by day three and all were dead by day seven.
Of the few zebrafish embryos that hatched after exposure to parts from the liquid-resin printer, every single one had developmental abnormalities. Grover and his student then turned this into a research paper on the toxicity of 3D printing materials.
Of course, that's fish embryos. The impact on a 180 pound human might be completely minimal. We just don't know yet. But like cell phones, CFLs and Wi-Fi, it's one more bit of new tech people will fear.