A precautionary approach to health and safety while using awesome, awesome laser cutters in the home.

UncategorizedFebruary 15, 20180

Holy Mola, Laser Cutters! If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seem some pretty cool projects coming out of my freshly arrived Glowforge laser cutter.

But laser cutters are not all sunshine and cool, wooden hinges. Laser cutters were, until very recently, the domain of industrial fabrication shops with extensive safety systems. As a new generation of low(er) cost, hobby and household cutters enter the market, we need to step back an think critically about the potential health and safety impacts of these incredible machines.

Like I did with 3D printers a few years back, I’m taking a deep dive into the hazards of laser cutters in the home and how to avoid them.

First, the issues of least concern (not because they aren’t bad, just that they’re far less likely to occur).

Fire. Lots of materials can catch fire, including, to no one’s surprise, wood. A fire safety plan will go a long way, but you can avoid ruining your laser cutter by being aware of what materials frequently catch fire. ABS, HDPE, polystyrene and polypropylene, and anything with poor thermal properties is going to ignite rather than cut cleanly. And then you’re going to have a bad day.

Beam escape. If your machine is not well taken care of and well shielded, there’s a small chance the wrong materials or loose connections can result in a beam escape, which can injure the user, bystanders, pets, or anything else that gets in the laser’s path. Most hobby grade lasers have good safety features to prevent this (although cheap knock-off machines are starting to hit the markets that may not be up to par), but monitoring you equipment and keeping it properly maintained will go a long way to avoiding this.

But those aren’t the biggest concerns. Th biggest concern with laser cutters is the byproduct that happens every time you cut, no mater what. That’s right, I’m talking about:

Fumes! 

This is the big one and the issue that I’m most concerned about. Laser cutters haven’t really left industrial settings until now, so we don’t have very good data on chronic exposures of laser cutting fumes, especially on young children and pregnant people. What we do know is that the fumes produced by laser cutter depend heavily on the materials you choose to cut.

All materials will produce fumes when cut, which is why it’s essential that your set-up is well-ventilated. Most hobby cutters have a vent port that you can connect to a dryer vent or to the outside. I actually don’t recommend using a dryer vent. In all the rental houses I’ve lived in, not one has ever had the dryer properly vented, and hooking up to your dryer port might mean that you’re just venting into the crawlspace or the wall, rather than out of you house. Go for the window. There’s no hard and fast rule for how much ventilation you need, other than as much as possible. For 3D printers we recommended that your ventilation system moves 3 times as much air as the volume of the room per hour. For laser cutters, it should probably be more.

Everything you cut is going to release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which is why ventilation is essential. For things like hardwoods and paper products, the VOCs released are comparable to a woodburning stove, frying too much bacon, or sitting around a campfire (though sitting around a campfire will give you a much higher dose). Prolonged exposure can cause respiratory problems and asthma. More complex materials like plywoods and plastics can have some pretty nasty compounds, so you want to make absolutely sure you know what’s going into your laser cutter, be aware of what materials should never, ever go into you household cutter, and always ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.

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Walking fish and microbe warfare: Thursday Afternoon Dredging, February 15, 2018

Thursday Afternoon Dredging0

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

Spoils (long reads and deep dives):

Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!

If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

Dear Shark Man, do open ocean sharks use nursery areas?

Dear Shark ManFebruary 14, 20180

Welcome to  Dear Shark Man, an advice column inspired by a ridiculous e-mail I received. You can send your questions to me via twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or e-mail (WhySharksMatter at gmail).


Dear Shark Man,

I know that sharks that live close to the coast sometimes use “nursery areas” when they are young. Do open ocean sharks also use nursery areas?
Sincerely,
Nosey in North Carolina 

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Conservation has a Trolley Problem

ConservationFebruary 13, 20180

A train screams down the tracks. Dead ahead, a pile of of giant pandas frolic, inexplicably, through a bamboo stand growing through the rails. But wait! There’s a switch. Pulling it will divert the train onto another track, where a tank containing one of the last 30 vaquita will surely be crushed. Do you pull the lever, dooming the vaquita, or hold the line, flattening the frolicking pandas? Do you stammer indecisively, wondering how you ended up in this situation as you careen, inexorably, into into an increasingly unavoidable outcome?

What if, rather than the conductor’s seat, you’re at the helm of a conservation organization? What if the train wasn’t a hundred tons of steel and steam, but the relentless press of public will, funding, and focus upon which it is your duty to shape and direct into action?

What if conservation has a Trolley Problem?

Ah the Trolley Problem, the thought experiment turned pop-philosophy darling whose use and misuse is, at best, an annoyance to every ethicist I know. Regrettably, I do them no favors here.

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Skate saunas, clone armies, deep news from deep-sea mining, an ocean of plastic, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: February 12, 2018.

Monday Morning SalvageFebruary 12, 20180

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Ranja Andriantsoa/The Atlantic

ROV framegrab of Pacific white skate egg sacs near a black smoker in the Galapagos. Photo Courtesy Ocean Exploration Trust

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Insect-eating salmon and cloned crayfish: Thursday Afternoon Dredging, February 8th, 2018

Thursday Afternoon DredgingFebruary 8, 20180

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

Spoils (long reads and deep dives):

Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!

If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

Canada proposed revisions to the Fisheries Act. Here’s how science and conservation experts reacted.

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceFebruary 7, 20180

Yesterday, the government of Canada announced some proposed amendments to the national Fisheries Act. The full text of the proposal can be viewed here. So far, it’s gone through the First Reading in the House of Commons (for my non-Canadian readers, here is what that means). I reached out to fisheries and conservation policy experts across Canada to ask what they think of these proposed changes.

Image courtesy Fisheries and Oceans Canada, modified by Hakai Magazine

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Hacking tractors, foraging in the surf, mini-boats, Mardi Gras beads, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: February 5, 2018.

Monday Morning SalvageFebruary 5, 20180

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

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Texting about ichthyology and climate change’s effects on indigenous culture: Thursday Afternoon Dredging, February 1st, 2018

Thursday Afternoon DredgingFebruary 1, 20180

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

https://twitter.com/preaux_fish/status/957479899605995521

Spoils (long reads and deep dives):

 

Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!

If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

The State of the Environment Address

Conservation, Conservation policy, Public perceptions of wildlifeJanuary 31, 20180

US President Donald  Trump said “I believe in clean air. I believe in crystal clear beautiful water.”

Image via gify.com

 

However, in last night’s State of the Union Address he declared his support for promoting coal-based energy* and he gave public notice of his intentions to curtail the environmental impact assessment process and environmental regulation for construction and road-building. This would be the latest in a series of executive actions that are removing or  hindering environmental protection including, amongst others:

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