For most of the history of industrial electronics, solder has been pretty boring. Mix some lead with a little tin, figure out how to wrap it around a thread of rosin, and that’s pretty much it. Sure, flux formulations changed a bit, the ratio of lead to tin was tweaked for certain applications, and sometimes manufacturers would add something exotic like a little silver. But solder was pretty mundane stuff.
Then in 2003, the dull gray world of solder got turned on its head when the European Union adopted a directive called Restriction of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS. We’ve all seen the little RoHS logos on electronics gear, and while the directive covers ten substances including mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, it has been most commonly associated with lead solder. RoHS, intended in part to reduce the toxicity of an electronic waste stream that amounts to something like 50 million tons a year worldwide, marked the end of the 60:40 alloy’s reign as the king of electrical connections, at least for any products intended for the European market, when it went into effect in 2006.
You’ll often hear about some study in the media and then — on examination — find it doesn’t really apply to your situation. Sure, substance X causes cancer in rats, but they ate 8 pounds of it a day for a decade. That’s why we were glad to see [Chuck] post a series of videos about 3D printing air quality based on his practical experience. You can see the summary video, below.
[Chuck] is quick to point out that he isn’t a doctor or even a chemist. He also admits the $100 meter from IGERESS he is using isn’t necessarily high-quality test gear. Still, the data is a good guideline and he did get repeatable results.
With the rising popularity and increasing availability of 3D printers, it was inevitable that someone would start looking into the potential environmental impact presented by them. And now we have two researchers from the University of California Riverside sounding the alarm that certain plastics are toxic to zebrafish embryos (abstract only; full paper behind a paywall).
As is often the case with science, this discovery was serendipitous. Graduate student [Shirin Mesbah Oskui] was using 3D printed tools to study zebrafish embryos, a widely used model organism in developmental biology, but she found the tools were killing her critters. She investigated further and found that prints from both a Stratasys Dimension Elite FDM printer and from a Formlabs Form 1+ stereolithography printer were “measurably toxic” to developing zebrafish embryos. The resin-based SLA printed parts were far worse for the fish than the fused ABS prints – 100% of embryos exposed to the Form 1+ prints were dead within seven days, and the few that survived that long showed developmental abnormalities before they died. Interestingly, the paper also describes a UV-curing process that reduces the toxicity of the SLA prints, which the university is patenting.
Of course what’s toxic to zebrafish is not necessarily a problem for school kids, as the video below seems to intimate. Still, this is an interesting paper that points to an area that clearly needs more investigation.