3D Printing Particles May Cause Respiratory Problems

3D Printing Particles May Cause Respiratory Problems 1

The market for 3D printed products is rapidly increasing and the manufacturing sector may have to adapt to use these new processes to keep up with demand. Since 3D printing will likely change how consumers buy and make products, companies investing in these machines may want to ensure they are cognizant of the potential health effects of this relatively new manufacturing process. Companies may want to increase the safety of 3D printing by installing fume hoods to remove harmful contaminants.

With consumer demand for 3D printing increasing and companies finding new ways to advance manufacturing with these game-changing devices, the global market for 3D printing is projected to increase more than 20 percent each year through 2017 to reach $5 billion, according to a study by The Freedonia Group. The market research firm predicts much of the growth in the global 3D printing market will center in the U.S., which will generate 42 percent of all sales in 2017.

One of the benefits of 3D printing is local manufacturers being able to send items to nearby customers fast, Forbes reported, which could be a boon with the popularity of online shopping continuing to grow.

“Products are getting to market quicker, arguably as better-designed products with more end-user feedback because they are able to play with a working model of the product,” said John Hauer, co-founder and CEO of 3DLT, which sells 3D printing templates. “We really don’t believe that 3D printing will replace mass manufacturing, but instead that [they] will coexist.”

Health effects of tiny particles from 3D printing

As with other manufacturing processes that require heating plastic, 3D printing may emit harmful chemicals. In the case of 3D printing, machines may generate small particles that can be embedded into the lungs, TechWorld reported. Researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and France’s National Institute of Applied Sciences discovered the plastic particles from the printers are less than 100 nanometers in diameter. Their small size makes them likely to be inhaled, to travel into the lungs and even into the brain.

“These small particles can cause inflammation in our respiratory system, or penetrate deep into our lungs and are small enough to enter our bloodstream,” Brent Stephens, lead author of the study and assistant professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at IIT, told Techworld. “Once in our bloodstream, they may interact with our cells, or maybe deposited in sensitive areas such as bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, or heart. They can also access the central nervous system via our brains.”

Workers may want to be aware of the risks of handling a plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which can produce 10 times as many ultra-fine particles as another type of common 3D printing material called poly(lactic acid). When people are exposed to ABS, they may experience headaches and respiratory irritation. Researchers recommend 3D printing companies utilize fume hoods when they print with ABS to prevent negative side effects. 

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Report: Poor Ventilation During Electrical Cable Manufacturing May Result in Respiratory Problems

During manufacturing of electrical components and cables, manufacturers may want to determine whether their employees are exposed to high levels of toxic airborne chemicals. A health hazard evaluation (HHE) report published by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found employees at a facility that produced electrical power distribution cable accessories may have been exposed to chemicals during manufacturing that may result in respiratory problems. Manufacturing employers that may see reports of respiratory issues among their workforce may want to invest in fume extraction solutions to remove toxic airborne chemicals from their workspace.

NIOSH said employees were concerned about certain manufacturing processes – including rubber molding, plastic extrusion and soldering – causing them to be exposed to harmful chemicals. Previously, workers reported symptoms related to issues with their eye, nose, throat and respiratory systems. They also said they experienced dizziness and headaches. In addition to analyzing employee concerns in its HHE report, NIOSH said it evaluated the company’s the work practices at the facility as well as potential air and surface contaminants.

Workers at risk for excess chemical exposure

“Although the chemicals we measured during our evaluation were below relevant OELs, levels at other times may have been higher depending on varying conditions,” the NIOSH report said. “In addition, some employees may still experience symptoms when compounds are present at levels below the OELs. Employee symptoms despite low air levels of solvents could be explained by the skin absorption of certain chemicals (OELs do not take into account chemical exposure through skin absorption)”

Importance of ventilation systems to limit exposure

In addition to having some chemicals surpass the limit for exposure, the facility had a damaged ventilation system, which was observed to have holes and disconnected ducts. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, companies should maintain their ventilation equipment to optimize employee safety.

“Ventilation may be deficient in confined spaces, facilities failing to provide adequate maintenance of ventilation equipment, facilities operated to maximize energy conservation, windowless areas, and areas with high occupant densities,” according to OHSA.

Companies may want to make sure their engineering controls, which include ventilation, are working properly. NIOSH recommended that the electronics cable manufacturer fix its ventilation system and expand its engineering controls to limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. The report noted employers may want to install exhaust ventilation on drying racks to protect workers who may be exposed to chemicals from painted parts. They may also want to invest in fume extraction solutions that will remove air impurities and replace them with clean air for to ensure worker safety. 

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Fume Extraction Complements Respiratory Protection for Workers

Fume Extraction Complements Respiratory Protection for Workers 1

While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides permissible exposure limits for various airborne toxic chemicals, companies should consider analyzing the exposure rate for individual employees. Depending on the length of exposure, occupation and other factors that influence the overall air quality of a facility, employers should be cognizant of the different exposure risks for individuals.

Workers are often exposed to biological pollutants that could be detrimental to air quality and trigger asthma attacks, according to the American Lung Association. Other air impurities like toxic gases and fumes have more long-term effects such as respiratory problems and could even cause issues with memory.

To limit exposure to harmful air pollutants that may cause occupational illnesses and fatalities, employers may want to provide workers with respiratory protection, such as respirators. According to OSHA, 1.3 million workplaces in the U.S. have approximately 5 million workers wear respirators.

The Oregon branch of OSHA recently released a guidance document for assessing respiratory risks in the workplace and other information about respiratory protection. Oregon OSHA recommended employers follow a three-step process for hazard analysis to find the source of respiratory hazards and protect against them.

In the document, the agency suggests companies use personal exposure monitoring to measure the individuals’ exposure rate by creating samples of the air they breathe in. Employers could also perform area monitoring, which involves collecting samples in locations in the facility where employees, managers or other workers suspect the air quality might be affecting their health or productivity. By undergoing exposure monitoring, employers can determine what the concentration of air impurities is and whether employees are at a high risk of developing negative health effects.

Engineering controls could complement respiratory protection

With the various airborne hazards in workplaces affecting workers on a case-by-case basis, companies may want to consider whether they should use personal protective equipment such as a respirators as well as engineering controls to reduce exposure to chemical and biological contaminants.

To complement respiratory protection, companies could install engineering controls to improve ventilation and air quality. These solutions include fume extraction equipment to remove impurities that could lower air quality and replace them with clean air. Fume extraction equipment could be installed close to the source of chemical exposure to target air impurities before they enter a worker’s breathing space.

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