A new discovery shows that the materials used in 3D printing are toxic to fish. This has led many to question what kind of impact the exciting technology is having on the environment.
Already, 3D printing has been used to create model hearts for surgeries and the world’s largest moustache. The value of the 3D printing market increased from $288 million in 2012 to $2.5 billion in 2013. By 2018, the industry is expected to be worth $16.2 billion.
Still, these materials might not be as safe as one initially thinks.
Bioengineer William Grover said, “Many people, including myself, are excited about 3D printing. But, we really need to take a step back and ask, 'how safe are these materials?'"
The discovery that 3D printing materials are toxic to fish was made by University of California Riverside graduate student Shirin Mesbah Oskui, who used a 3D printer to create tools designed to study the development of zebrafish.
However, many of the fish started dying when they were exposed to the tools. Oskui then redirected her research to focus on the toxicity of 3D printing materials.
It has already been shown that 3D printing uses some questionable materials. The technology often uses toxic materials such as acrylate and methacrylate. Oskui have not yet determined exactly what chemicals are leaking from the 3D printed objects.
However, just because 3D printing materials have been proven to be toxic to zebrafish doesn’t necessarily mean that they are toxic to humans as well. Still, it’s enough to make experts somewhat worried about the safety of the technology.
This isn’t the first time that 3D printers have been shown to produce toxic materials. One study showed that 3D printed materials can leak a heavy metal called antimony. Another study concluded that some 3D printers release dangerous particles into the air.
With 3D printers becoming increasingly available and more widely used, more research urgently needs to be conducted to make sure they are safe. The worst thing we could do is start creating a massive amount of toxic materials that would have to be replaced further on down the line. Massive losses occurred when companies had to start replacing buildings made out of lead and asbestos. We don’t want to go down that road again.