Safety of Drilling 3-Dimensional–Printed Temporal Bones | Otolaryngology | JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
September 2018

Safety of Drilling 3-Dimensional–Printed Temporal Bones

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2Department of Radiology, Yale Medical Center, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 3Office of Environmental Safety, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 4Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018;144(9):797-801. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2018.1516
Key Points

Question  When drilling 3-dimensional (3-D)-printed temporal bones, are harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced in excess of the safety limits set by the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)?

Findings  In this occupational safety assessment, air sampling was conducted while a surgeon drilled temporal bones of 3 different commonly used materials; no harmful VOCs were detected in excess of the safety limits.

Meaning  Drilling 3-D–printed models of the 3 tested materials was safe by OHSA standards; continued monitoring and safety testing is needed as 3-D–printed technologies are introduced to our specialty.


Importance  Three-dimensional (3-D) printing of temporal bones is becoming more prevalent. However, there has been no measure of the safety of drilling these models to date. It is unknown whether the heat and sheer from the drill may create harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Objective  To determine the level of exposure to airborne contaminants when conducting high-speed drilling on 3-D–printed models and to explore whether there is a need for exposure control measures.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In this occupational safety assessment carried out in a temporal bone laboratory, 3 individual 3-D–printed temporal bones were made using 3 different materials commonly cited in the literature: polylactic acid (PLA), photoreactive acrylic resin (PAR), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Each model was drilled for 40 minutes while the surgeon wore a sampling badge. Sampling was conducted for airborne concentrations of VOCs and total particulate (TP). Monitoring for VOCs was conducted using Assay Technology 521-25 organic vapor badge worn at the surgeon’s neckline. Monitoring for TP was conducted using a polyvinyl chloride filter housed inside a cassette and coupled with an SKC AirChek 52 personal air-sampling pump. Samples were collected and analyzed in accordance with NIOSH Method 500.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Presence of VOCs and TP count exposures at Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) actionable levels.

Results  Results of the VOC sample were less than detection limits except for isopropyl alcohol at 0.24 ppm for PAR. The TP samples were less than the detection limit of 1.4 mg/m3. The results are below all applicable OSHA Action Levels and Permissible Exposure Limits for all contaminants sampled for.

Conclusions and Relevance  Drilling 3-D–printed models made from PLA, ABS, and PAR was safe by OSHA standards. Continued monitoring and safety testing are needed as 3-D–printed technologies are introduced to our specialty.