Nanotechnology Risks

NIOSH Seeks to Protect Workers From Nanomaterials

By: | February 3, 2014

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

Companies that produce and use engineered nanomaterials are being sought to help find ways to improve worker safety. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is looking for research partners, following the release of its latest information on nanotechnology safety.

Engineered nanomaterials have properties different from those of larger particles of the same material, making them unique and desirable for specific product applications. They are used in a wide variety of products, such as makeup, sunscreen, food storage products, appliances, clothing, electronics, computers, sporting goods, and coatings. Researchers have been focused on protecting workers from the potential dangers of exposure.

“The greatest exposures to raw nanomaterials are likely to occur in the workplace during production, handling, secondary processing, and packaging,” according to a recent NIOSH science blog posting. “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. 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.”

Researchers estimate approximately 400,000 workers worldwide are in the field of nanotechnology, and the National Science Foundation predicts that number may reach 6 million by 2020.

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The new document, Current Strategies for Engineering Controls in Nanomaterial Production and Downstream Handling Processes, includes information on controlling exposures for many of the most common processes seen in facilities that use or produce nanomaterials or nano-enabled products.

“NIOSH’s new document discusses approaches and strategies to protect workers from potentially harmful exposures during nanomaterial manufacturing, use, and handling processes,” the post says. “It is intended to be used as a reference by plant managers and owners who are responsible for making decisions regarding capital allocations, as well as health and safety professionals, engineers, and industrial hygienists who are specifically charged with protecting worker health in this new and growing field.”

Because of the scarcity of information on exposure controls, the document focuses mainly on applications relevant to the field of nanotechnology and engineering control technologies known to be effective in other industries. NIOSH is seeking help from companies with experience.

“Producers and users of engineered nanomaterials are invited and encouraged to partner with NIOSH,” the agency says. “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.”

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]