Ask Drs. Oz & Roizen: Consider waiting to purchase a 3-D printer

September 7, 2013 

Q: I’m fascinated by the new 3-D printers; I can’t wait to manufacture things at home for myself and the kids. But I hear they may be a health hazard. What’s that about?

John P., Minneapolis

A: We also love technology that makes life simpler and easier. Who doesn’t? But you’re right, at-home 3-D printers come with some pretty serious risks.

The 3-D printers (available from $400 to $1,300) that let you manufacture your own cup and saucer or screwdriver can release 20 to 200 billion toxic nanoparticles as they “print” objects. A recent test ranked them all as “high emitters.” And some studies indicate that the emissions are related to total and cardio-respiratory mortality, hospital admissions for stroke, and asthma symptoms.

The way 3-D printers work is that they heat up a thermoplastic feedstock (the equivalent of an inkjet cartridge) and then extrude the plastic in layers to create your desired object. The lower-temperature models use PLA (polylactic acid) feedstock and may be safer than the higher temperature ones that use ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) feedstock.

Industrial 3-D printers that are already used to make everything from scientific equipment to molds of teeth operate in a tightly controlled and filtered environment.At-home models are freestanding and don’t come with exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories. So you and your kids could breathe in harmful mini-particles of plastic and associated chemicals.

Our tip? Hold off on buying that desktop 3-D printer until more tests are done to ensure it’s safe. And if you do have one already, make sure it’s in a garage or shed that’s very well-ventilated and install an air filter. Don’t let the kids use it, and consider wearing a ventilator when you’re around it.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.

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