Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety
N THIS ISSUE: Nanotechnology & Employee Health
Nanotechnology is the engineering and manipulation of materials at the molecular level. These materials are very minute with dimensions ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers (1 nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter). This presents a unique problem for industrial hygienists and safety professionals since most chemicals and particles have been measured in parts per million or greater. Particles and aerosols below one micron (micrometer) were thought to bypass the lungs and flow directly into the blood stream and not have the ill effects of larger chemicals. However, nanomaterials may behave differently and have different health effects.
Nanomaterials present unique problems to research. Because many nanomaterials have many different uses, it is difficult to test all of them and estimate their effects on human health.A reduction in the size of particles results in an increase in particle surface area and more chemical molecules may attach to this surface enhancing its reactivity and resulting in an increase in toxic effects.After absorption, nanoparticles reach the blood stream and then spread through tissue.There have been several published papers that have found toxic effects in animals by nanoparticles and one study about toxic effects in workers.
Little information is available about the health hazards of nanoparticles in the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)is conducting research to determine whether they pose a health threat to exposed workers. Meanwhile current methods of testing can be used on nanoparticles while further research on more sensitive testing methods is on-going.
As with any hazard, engineering controls are best at controlling exposures. Use of local exhaust ventilation, enclosure, and HEPA filtration are effective strategies in controlling worker health issues. Respiratory protection may be used as an added protection to engineering controls. In addition, employees exposed to nanoparticles should be medically monitored on a regular basis and special attention paid to employee concerns and complaints.
Nanotechnology is an emerging science and will continue to present challenges to employers and safety professionals. However, by using traditional safety controls, communicating effectively with employees, and being aware of the latest information about the hazardous effects of nanomaterials, worker safety and health can be maintained.
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.
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