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Are there any safety risks inherent to PLA plastics used for 3D printing?

The material safety data sheet of some PLA plastics indicates low risks at a toxicological level, but I'd like to make sure some other factor isn't overlooked. (1, 2, 3)


SECTION 11: TOXICOLOGICAL INFORMATION
PRINCIPLE ROUTES OF EXPOSURE: Eye contact, Skin contact, Inhalation, Ingestion. ACUTE TOXICITY: None noted during use.

LOCAL EFFECTS: Product dust may be irritating to eyes, skin and respiratory system. Particles, like other inert materials, are mechanically irritating to eyes. Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

SPECIFIC EFFECTS: May cause skin irritation and/or dermatitis. Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Inhalation of dust may cause shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, a sore throat and cough. Burning produces irritant fumes.

CHRNOIC TOXICITY: None noted during use.

REPRODUCTIVE TOXICITY: No data is available on the product itself.
CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: None of the components of this product are listed as carcinogens by IARC, NTP, or OSHA.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's hard to prove a negative, but the polymer itself is even used medically inside the human body. So it seems very reasonable to believe the major risks are just mechanical in nature (abrasion, particulates, etc.) not chemical/biological processes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't worry about health risks for PLA. There are no proven cases of dangers to printing in a populate area/room. Although smoothed PLA could be fine for touching your food or mouth, I wouldn't inject or burn PLA. $\endgroup$
    – Hacky
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 7:09

2 Answers 2

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Extrusion of PLA through a nozzle can cause microparticles to be generated (referenced as "dust" in your document) which can be temporarily airborne. If ingested through breathing for an extended period of time, this can cause respiratory distress. Your document claims "no acute toxicity" from this.

My personal experience is that:

  • Different plastics at different temperatures emit a variable amount of this dust.
  • A cloth mask effectively blocks it.
  • The dust settles very quickly, in both time and distance.
  • The effects (for me at least) are irritation only (well described in your document), and disappear completely in a time proportional to the length of exposure, but not more than a day or so.
  • PLA is not near as bad as other plastics like ABS. But either of these burns is much worse.

The paper "Review on particle emissions during fused deposition modeling of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polylactic acid polymers" goes into this in greater detail.
There are probably others.

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  • $\begingroup$ Without intending any offense at all, most of this answer is just the experience of a single person, on which no scientific conclusions can be drawn (n=1). There are some cases of people smoking cigarettes and having only minimal health problems, yet millions of smokers (and many non-smokers in their vicinity) have died from cigarettes. I'm not saying that using PLA is better or worse than smoking, I'm just saying reporting about the effects on a single person is actually worse than meaningless... it can be downright misleading. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ The point is that the data saftey sheet is correct, but not very explicit. I was trying to expand a bit on what it means. I wish I knew where the paper was that I read about this, but I didn't find it in my document library. $\endgroup$
    – user10489
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ oooh, searched harder and found it. Link added. $\endgroup$
    – user10489
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 12:37
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If you are concerned about inhalation (and I think you should be), you should use a hierarchy of controls to mitigate the risk.

NIOSH (part of the CDC) have a good document outlining how to mitigate the risks of 3D printing particulate emissions.

Note that the smell you experience may be VOCs, not particles. Both are important to block. To do so, use a respirator with both particulate and organic vapour filters, in addition to an air purification/local exhaust ventilation system. The ‘carbon filters’ often seen in 3D printers do almost nothing for particulates, only nuisance levels of vapours.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to 3D Printing! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. $\endgroup$
    – agarza
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like good advice for almost all the plastics (except PLA which is fairly non-toxic). $\endgroup$
    – user10489
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 22:03

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