New NIOSH Report On Nano-technology

Updating their previous draft report from July 2006, NIOSH is about to produce a final report to provide an overview of what is known about the potential hazards of nanoparticles and how workplace exposure to nanoparticles can be minimized and monitored.

Nanotechnology—the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce new structures,
materials, and devices—offers the promise of unprecedented scientific advancement for many sectors, such as medicine, consumer products, energy, materials, and manufacturing. Nanotechnology has the power not only to improve existing technologies, but to dramatically enhance the effectiveness of new applications. Research on the potential applications of nanotechnology continues to expand rapidly worldwide. New nanotechnology consumer products emerge at a rate of three to four per week. Over the course of the next decade, nanotechnology could have a $1 trillion impact on the global economy and employ two million workers—half of them residing in the U.S. While nanomaterials present seemingly limitless possibilities, they bring with them new challenges to understanding, predicting, and managing potential safety and health risks.

The report analyzes several animal and epidemiologic studies, hypothesizing that effects of inhaled nanoparticles are similar to ultrafine particles with similar characteristics or may be predicted by surface area, composition, and particle number. Noting the potential for chronic respiratory effects such as inflammation and tumor development, NIOSH emphasizes that exposure assessment should be conducted for environments where nanomaterials are manufactured or used as part of a manufacturing process. They recommend several methods for measuring and characterizing nanomaterial air concentrations including aerosol sampling, airborne surface area analysis, and particle number measurement.

The NIOSH report notes several challenges for implementation of successful nanoparticle monitoring strategies, including lack of current standards and complexity/uniqueness of individual nanoparticle types. Because health risk information and monitoring strategies are limited at this time, they emphasize use of a variety of engineering control techniques, implementation of a risk management program in workplaces where exposure to nanomaterials exists, and use of good work practices to help to minimize worker exposures to nanomaterials.