The use of laser engraving or laser cutting systems in many industrial settings can lead to regular exposure to a number of chemicals, gases and particulate matter.

Wood engraving (Photo courtesy of Audin Malmin)

Airborne particles from laser engraving

Particulate generated as a result of laser applications is measurable in microns, which means it is small enough to be inhaled.

Depending on the material, these particles can cause serious side effects.

While ceramics, glass and wood release microscopic particulate that may cause irritation to the respiratory tract, skin, nose and eyes, metals like steel emit chromium and Nickel fumes that are carcinogenic.

Gases and fumes released in the laser cutting process

Lasered plastics, rubbers and powder coatings produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Using a laser system – whether it is cutting, engraving or marking – catalyses VOC gas as it melts the material.

Moreover, because these gases are toxic and have the ability to spread quickly, it is important that these fumes are removed immediately.

Synthetic polymers include plastics like polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, as well as synthetic rubber, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene, phosgene and many other materials.

Eighty million metric tons of polyethylene are produced each year, making it the most widely used plastic.  However, polyethylene produces formaldehyde, a noxious VOC and known carcinogen, which means aside from bringing on asthmatic attacks and allergies, it causes cancer.

Rubbers that are exposed to high energy sources (such as welding, laser engravings, markings, etc.) emit benzene, a VOC and recognized carcinogen that may cause death, low white blood cell count, anaemia and cancer.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a plasticizer that is used to make a multiplicity of products including signage, figurines, flooring and many other products.

PVC emits extremely toxic and corrosive hydrogen chloride acid gas, dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride, which make a very toxic carcinogenic combination.

PVC can cause severe health problems including cancer, neurological damage, as well as reproductive and immune system damage.

Phosgene is an ingredient in most plastics composed of hydrochloric acid.  Originally designed for military purposes as a poison in the First World War, when inhaled, phosgene destroys lung tissue causing pulmonary edema.

Air filtration systems for laser cutting and engraving

Electrocorp has designed air cleaners for laser engraving and laser cutting environments. They feature a deep bed of activated carbon for the removal of chemicals as well as a powerful HEPA filter to remove particles that are released in the laser cutting process.

Contact Electrocorp for more information.

See also Laser Engraving and Chemical Exposure