Rampant news stories are circulating suggesting that a 3D printer “killed” a California couple, but it can’t be true.
I was reluctant to write about this incident because it is so senseless, but then my inbox started filling with questions from readers about what happened. So here goes.
The story seems to have started with a report from CBS News, which says:
A couple found dead in their Berkeley home under mysterious circumstances earlier this week was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, a law enforcement source told KPIX 5 Friday.
35-year-old Roger Morash and 32-year-old Valerie Morash were found dead Monday afternoon in a fourplex on Deakin Street in Berkeley where they had lived for several years.
The source said that the couple was using a laser 3-D printer that was venting into their residence. Symptoms and signs consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning were found in their bodies.
This story was then replicated and reformed by other outlets to make the 3D printer appear to be the culprit. An example is Boing Boing’s story, which says:
A young couple and two cats found dead in their Berkeley, Calif., apartment may have been overcome by fumes vented from a 3D printer, reports CBS News. 35-year-old Roger Morash and 32-year-old Valerie Morash were discovered in the morning by a visitor.
Strangely, the Boing Boing story’s headline says:
Laser cutter fumes suspected in deaths of California couple, cats
So what actually happened?
I can tell you that 3D printers do not generally produce carbon monoxide unless they catch fire, which doesn’t sound like the case here.
And what is a “laser 3-D printer”? Is that a laser cutter? Or a 3D printer? Or both? There are some combined units, like the ZMorph, which permits you to swap in a laser engraving head for etching, but that’s pretty small and wouldn’t produce a lot of emissions given it’s minuscule power.
But then, perhaps this unfortunate couple operated an actual laser cutter. These devices can produce lots of fumes, smoke and emissions and are ALWAYS installed with proper ventilation, be it a blower that pushes air outside, or a self-contained emissions capture unit. If one was operating a proper laser cutter without either, then this scenario was inevitable.
I might speculate that a long running laser cut was underway and perhaps the ventilation failed or was not manually turned on by accident. That could certainly fill a home with CO and other nasty stuff.
If anything, this tragedy should remind everyone that operating mechanical equipment in one’s home does pose some risks, risks which could be mitigated through proper handling.
And by the way, if you haven't noticed, 3D printers are highly useful devices that are safely in use in literally hundreds of thousands of installations around the world.