NIOSH makes big effort on small particles

June 20, 2006
Many federal and international bodies are striving to identify and conduct research to fill data needs in connection with the health and safety implications of nanotechnology.

Many federal and international bodies are striving to identify and conduct research to fill data needs in connection with the health and safety implications of nanotechnology (see this issue’s cover story, p. TK). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has distinguished itself in nanotechnology research, particularly as needs arise with respect to worker health and safety. In 2004, NIOSH established the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) to coordinate research across the Institute. Its vision is for “safe nanotechnology by delivering on the Nation’s promise — safety and health at work for all people through research and prevention.”

One of the ways NIOSH is delivering on its promise is via  “Approvals to Safe Nanotechnology: An Information Exchange With NIOSH.” This useful document, which is available online at and summarized below, is intended to raise awareness of  “potential safety and health concerns from exposure to nanomaterials.” It addresses current and future research needs essential to understanding “the potential risks that nanotechnology may have to workers.” Chemical Processing readers are urged to review the document and to contribute their thoughts, research, and stewardship development to NIOSH to spark information exchange.

An overview

The information exchange provides a useful overview of nanoparticles’ toxicity and control, and interim recommendations on occupational safety and health practices in the production and use of nanomaterials. Importantly, the recommendations address the key components of occupational safety and health, including monitoring, engineering control, personal protective equipment, occupational exposure limits, and administrative controls. The document uses a hazard-based approach to risk assessment and control. Finally, it facilitates an information exchange between NIOSH and interested third-parties, and thus potentially could greatly contribute to the exchange of useful information to stakeholders on ways to identify and control risk to workers in conjunction with engineered nanoscale substances.

Organizationally, the document first describes  [provides a useful overview is over-used]key routes of exposure to nanoscale materials, as well as the health effects seen in animal studies associated with exposure to various types of engineered nanoparticles under certain circumstances. The document then provides an overview of potential safety hazards posed by engineered nanomaterial, including fire and explosion and catalytic reactions.

The document next offers a number of useful and thoughtful considerations for entities working with engineered nanomaterials. These include measures to limit occupational exposure to nanoscale materials and various factors affecting exposure to nanomaterials.

Two of the most useful and critically important sections of the Information Exchange are Exposure Assessment and Characterization and Exposure Control Procedures. These sections give a succinct and current overview of means to monitor workplace exposures. NIOSH offers a sampling strategy which readers may find valuable.

The exposure-control-procedures discussion is useful and well-written. While cautioning that there is limited information about the health risks associated with occupational exposures to nanoscale materials, the document urges stakeholders to embrace precautionary work protections and to tailor control procedures to mitigate potential exposures. Engineering controls, work protection, personal protective clothing, and respiratory protection also are all addressed. Table 1 in the document provides a summary of air purifying particulate respirators, including pricing information, which is understandably somewhat dated, but nonetheless useful.  Information on the cleanup of nanomaterial spills also is reviewed.

If you are engaged in any way in the manufacture, use, distribution, or disposal of engineered nanoscale materials, the Information Exchange is a must read. NIOSH urges readers to share information to facilitate the prompt and comprehensive consideration of all pertinent aspects of workplace safety. Chemical Processing readers are urged to assist NIOSH in the laudable goal, and share information with interested others as appropriate.

By Lynn Bergeson, regulatory editor. She is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on chemical industry issues. Contact here at [email protected]. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author. This column is not intended to provide, nor should be construed as, legal advice.

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