Should we be concerned with 3D printer emissions?

3D printing is a relatively new technology in schools. We know that 3D printers produce fumes and smells into the air during printing but how much do we know about the potential health risks associated with 3D printing?

3D printers release a variety of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Ultra Fine Particles (UFPs) into the air during the heating of the print filament. Two of the most common filament types are:

  1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), a petroleum-based material.
  2. PLA (PolyLactic Acid) which is derived from corn starch.

Others include: TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane), an extremely flexible polyurethane based plastic, Carbon filament, Grass filament, Metal filament, Hemp filament and Beer filament.

Volatile Organic Compounds. “VOCs are a group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. Many common household materials and products, such as paints and cleaning products, give off VOCs. Common VOCs include acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, toluene and xylene.” Australia – state of the environment.

All filaments produce VOCs and UFPs. The amount and type is determined by the filament used and to a much lesser extent the type of printer used. ABS releases more toxic VOCs including styrene and formaldehyde, the first a suspected human carcinogen and the second a known one. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a corn-based plastic found in medical implants, drinking cups, and disposable diapers and emits methyl methacrylate, a mild skin irritant.

While PLA is considered a safer product than ABS, additives applied to PLA filaments to increase things like shine and electrical conductivity can change emissions significantly. It is also important to note that HEPA filters do not filter VOCs effectively or at all, only UFPs.

All filament types emit UFPs which are small enough to get into the lungs and blood stream and have been linked with respiratory and cardiovascular disease. A study by the Environmental, Science and Technology Journal showed that the highest UFP rates occurred with ABS filament and the lowest emissions with PLA.

At PBAS we use PLA filament and have 1 UP Box+ and 2 UP Mini printers which are in an enclosed space approximately 4m by 2.8m. This room has an air circulation vent and air conditioning system but no dedicated fume extraction system. All our printers are fully enclosed with HEPA filters that assist in reducing UFPs. Recent testing by the Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology said the following about the UP Box+ enclosed filtering system:

  • Having an enclosed box reduced UFPs by 74% with no filter operating.
  • Having an enclosed box with the HEPA filter operating reduced UFPs by 91%.
  • Testing with the HEPA filter turned on also suggested some reduction in VOCs but was not conclusive.

While the longer term impacts of 3D printing in spaces like offices, schools and home environments are not fully known there are some things that can be taken from the current research:

  1. Print in a well ventilated space.
  2. Do not stay in the same space as the 3D printer for extended periods of time while it is printing.
  3. ABS filaments emit known carcinogenic chemicals.
  4. Use PLA filament.
  5. Use printers that are fully enclosed and include HEPA filters.

If you use 3D printers now, or are considering their use in the future then it is important to consider how you can reduce any potential health risks to yourself and your students.



Volatile Organic Compounds Ambient Air Quality 2016

New 3D printer test: Up Box+ Printer with HEPA filter

3-D printer emissions raise concerns and prompt controls

Emissions of Ultrafine Particles and Volatile Organic Compounds from Commercially Available Desktop Three-Dimensional Printers with Multiple Filaments

Health study reveals harmful “toxic” effects of 3D printing

Year 7/8 Promotional Videos for Health

The students brief was to select a health based organisation, visit its website, research that organisation (core values, purpose, service to community, research etc) and then plan how they could portray that organisation in a short 1 minute iMovie Trailer.

Organisations included the Cancer Council, Heart Foundation, Beyond Blue, Sun Smart, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) among others.

Students used the following planning tool (the example pictured is the first page only). To access downloadable PDF versions of all the planning tools for iMovie trailers go to the blog Learning in Hand by Tony Vincent. Students can even type into these documents.

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My students had to work in pairs to achieve this task and provide me with a completed planning document before they could move on and create their trailer. Students had to demonstrate the following before creating their trailer:

  • A clear message was required that represented the organisation they had chosen. It had to be simple and easy to understand.
  • The images needed to be high quality. We discussed how to use the Search Filter in Google images to search by Large Image for better quality pictures.
  • Images need to match the text and support the message being conveyed by the students.
  • Spelling and grammar needed to be correct.

One of the major aims of the videos was to promote the health organisation to the community. To complete this aim the videos will be playing in the community library to promote those organisations to a wider audience.

I have included two student Trailers and was impressed by the efforts of all my students to meet the criteria for this task.

#910DA Health Class

My Year 9/10 health class are continuing to use Twitter to share and discuss their term 4 topic drugs and alcohol. We have been focusing on the legalisation of medical marijuana over the last few weeks.

For those interested in reading what my students have been tweeting I have embedded the #910DA Twitter feed into the blog (scroll down its on the left hand side).

Students are on a steep learning curve about how to tweet effectively and not all tweets have been accurate! One student account misread an article and their tweet reflected this. They had also not supplied the link to the study they were quoting. When asked they did provide the link and I was able to help them understand what the article actually said. I’ve inserted the conversation below.

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It is this type of conversation that has led to face to face conversations in the classroom about being accurate with what we post. For example some of the statements in the image below are flat out lies that falsely promoted a positive view of marijuana i.e. marijuana cures cancer. As a class we were able to view the graphic and talk about what we thought was accurate and what we thought was inaccurate and why. We also discussed how posting something in this way says we agree with the content and if the content is inaccurate it reflects on us.

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A benefit to using this method of communication was realised when I was absent from school and missed my weekly 9/10 health class. The lesson I set for the relief teacher involved students responding to links I had sent them via Twitter. I was able to sit at home and see who was engaging in the activity and respond to student tweets, all in real time. I was there without physically being there. Below are some examples of my interactions during this lesson.

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Using Twitter with my 9/10 Health Class

I have been using Twitter professionally for 3 years and acknowledge it as a major cornerstone of my professional development and a source for the majority of information shared on this blog.

So having seen its benefits professionally I wondered how it would transfer into my 9/10 health class which is doing a drugs and alcohol unit this term. I am always conscious of not using technology because it’s all the rage or it’s what everyone else is doing until I have convinced myself of how it will improve student learning. Having said this sometimes it is hard to tell if the benefits will be realised without trialling it first. This is were I am at with using Twitter in my classroom.

My goals for Twitter in this class are:

  1. It will expose students to a broader range of opinion on the topic of drugs and alcohol.
  2. It will allow students to share quality information about the responsible use of drugs and alcohol including personal opinion and the latest data and facts.
  3. It will expose students to a new way of viewing social media. As a tool that can be used to develop professional and educational networks.
  4. It will be an opportunity to discuss responsible use of social media and how what you post represents you as a person. How do you want to be viewed?

Rather than discuss all aspects of how this task will work I have linked the following for you to view if interested:

1. Drugs and alcohol program (overview) linked to the Australian Curriculum

2. Twitter task explanation

3. Twitter task – parent letter

As part of setting up their accounts students had to follow each other and follow 16 organisations (selected by me) whose sole purpose was focused on the topic of drugs and alcohol, for example @DrinkWiseAust @ActiononAlcohol. We also created a class hashtag to allow us a way of seeing all of our tweets in one place, #910DA.

It will be interesting at the end of this unit to see if Twitter met my expectations in the classroom and what the students thought of it as a way of learning.

Below are screen shots from student accounts from our first lesson using Twitter.

The first image shows 6 student accounts. Most students created their accounts in pairs using the first name of one student and the last name of the other. All accounts required a “bio” explaining the purpose of their account.

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I retweeted all student tweets to my followers asking if they could follow, retweet or favourite some of my students tweets to help show them how Twitter works. I also thought it would give the students a buzz knowing that others were instantly viewing and sharing what they posted. The tweet below was from Brandon and contained a graphic which can be seen a bit further down. Brandon’s tweet was retweeted by myself and two others sending it out to over 1500 people.

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One of our focuses is medical marijuana and its legalisation in Australia. Both Connor and Maddy found that our Prime Minister Tony Abbot is in favour of legalising medical marijuana! It will be interesting to see what the students think after viewing the SBS program INSIGHT around this topic.

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Do you have senior students interested in the health industry?

Check out healthheroes a Federal Government website promoting jobs in the health industry. This great looking website has a wide range of information covering jobs, training, financial support, resources and a quiz to assist students with what type of jobs they might be best suited to. There are also videos of young people who work in the health industry. They talk about what inspired them to take on a job in this area and what they like about their job.

Here are some images from the website.