A Dec. 19, 2013 news item on Nanowerk announces the release of a recent publication about the safe handling of nanomaterials from the US National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), Note: A link has been removed,
Occupational health risks associated with manufacturing and using nanomaterials are not yet clearly understood. However, initial toxicological data indicate that there is reason for caution. NIOSH is committed to promoting the responsible development and advancement of nanotechnology through its research and communication efforts to protect workers. NIOSH has taken a leading role in conducting research and making recommendations for nanotechnology safety in work settings. See the nanotechnology topic page for a list of documents and resources.
Recently, NIOSH has released a document titled, Current Strategies for Engineering Controls in Nanomaterial Production and Downstream Handling Processes, which provides information on how to control exposures for many of the most common processes seen in facilities that use or produce nanomaterials or nano-enabled products.
A Nov.8, 2013 NIOSH news release provides some additional insight into NIOSH’s strategy,,
Engineering controls are favored over administrative controls and personal protective equipment for lowering worker exposures, because they are designed to remove the hazard at the source, before it comes into contact with the worker. However, evidence showing the effectiveness of controls during the manufacture and downstream use of engineered nanomaterials in specific applications has been scarce.
The NIOSH recommendations fill a gap for science-based guidance that employers and workers can apply now, as research continues for better understanding of nanomaterial characteristics, and ways in which workers may be exposed, that may pose the risk of adverse health effects.
The consumer products market currently has more than 1,000 nanomaterial-containing products including makeup, sunscreen, food storage products, appliances, clothing, electronics, computers, sporting goods, and coatings. As more nanomaterials are introduced into the workplace and nano-enabled products enter the market, it is essential that producers and users of engineered nanomaterials ensure a safe and healthy work environment, the new document states.
Processes discussed in the document and for which controls are recommended and described include reactor operations and cleanout processes, small-scale weighing and handling of nanopowders, intermediate and finishing processes, and maintenance tasks. The document also includes recommendations for evaluating the performance of control technologies and control systems.
There’s a Dec. 9, 2013 NIOSH blog posting written by Jennifer L. Topmiller and Kevin H. Dunn which provides more detail about workers’ exposure to nanomaterials,,
Engineered nanomaterials are materials that are intentionally produced and have at least one primary dimension less than 100 nanometers (nm). Nanomaterials have properties different from those of larger particles of the same material, making them unique and desirable for specific product applications. The consumer products market currently has more than 1,000 nanomaterial-containing products including makeup, sunscreen, food storage products, appliances, clothing, electronics, computers, sporting goods, and coatings [WWICS 2011].
It is difficult to estimate how many workers are involved in this field. By one estimate, there are 400,000 workers worldwide in the field of nanotechnology, with an estimated 150,000 of those in the United States [Roco et al. 2010]. The National Science Foundation has estimated that approximately 6 million workers will be employed in nanotechnology industries worldwide by 2020.
Occupational health risks associated with manufacturing and using nanomaterials are not yet clearly understood. However, initial toxicological data indicate that there is reason for caution. NIOSH is committed to promoting the responsible development and advancement of nanotechnology through its research and communication efforts to protect workers. NIOSH has taken a leading role in conducting research and making recommendations for nanotechnology safety in work settings. …
The greatest exposures to raw nanomaterials are likely to occur in the workplace during production, handling, secondary processing, and packaging. In a review of exposure assessments conducted at nanotechnology plants and laboratories, Dr. Derk Brouwer determined that activities which resulted in exposures included harvesting (e.g., scraping materials out of reactors), bagging, packaging, and reactor cleaning [Brouwer 2010]. Downstream activities that may release nanomaterials include bag dumping, manual transfer between processes, mixing or compounding, powder sifting, and machining of parts that contain nanomaterials. Similar to controlling hazards in traditional macro-scale manufacturing, engineering controls are recommended to reduce exposures to nanomaterials.
… Because little has been published on exposure controls in the production and use of nanomaterials, this document focuses on applications that have relevance to the field of nanotechnology and on engineering control technologies currently used, and known to be effective, in other industries.
Assessing how well the exposure control works is also essential for verifying that the exposure goals of the facility have been successfully met. This document covers a range of control evaluation tools including airflow visualization and measurement and containment test methods, such as tracer gas testing. Additional methods, such as video exposure monitoring, also provide information on critical task-based exposures and helps identify high-exposure activities and help provide the basis for interventions.
intriguingly, there’s also a plea for partnership at the end of this Dec. 9, 2013 NIOSH posting,
Producers and users of engineered nanomaterials are invited and encouraged to partner with NIOSH. Companies that have installed exposure controls, such as local exhaust ventilation, or are interested in assessing and reducing worker exposures can work with NIOSH engineers to develop and evaluate exposure mitigation options. Partnering with NIOSH not only benefits your company by providing an assessment of process emissions and recommending effective exposure control approaches but also expands the knowledge base that benefits the industry as a whole. Please feel free to contact us through the comment section below or by sending an e-mail to [email protected]. Thank for your interest in protecting workers!
You can find the NIOSH report, Current Strategies for Engineering Controls in Nanomaterial Production and Downstream Handling Processes here.