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safety and health risks, guidelines, and training resources

Safety and Health Resources | Guidelines and Procedures | Training Resources

Safety and Health Risks

Occupational safety and health risks associated with manufacturing and using nanomaterials are not yet clearly understood, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The rapid growth of nanotechnology is leading to the development of new materials, devices, and processes that lie far beyond the current understanding of environmental and human impact.

Many nanomaterials and devices are formed from nanometer-scale particles (nanoparticles) that are initially produced as aerosols or colloidal suspensions. Exposure to these materials during manufacturing and use may occur through:

  • Inhalation
  • Dermal (skin) contact
  • Ingestion

Minimal information is currently available on dominant exposure routes, potential exposure levels, and material toxicity. What information does exist comes primarily from the study of ultrafine particles (typically defined as particles smaller than 100 nanometers). Workers within nanotechnology-related industries have the potential to be exposed to uniquely engineered materials with novel sizes, shapes, and physical and chemical properties, at levels far exceeding ambient concentrations.

According to the DOE Protecting Human Subjects Newsletter No. 13, Spring 2006, human experimentation will attempt to answer the following questions:

  • What happens to the nanoparticles we are already inhaling every day?
  • Can we trace the path of nanoparticles in the body?
  • Can we extract nanoparticles from body fluids?
  • Can we protect workers and the environment from released nanoparticles?
  • How do nanoparticles affect basic cellular processes?
  • Are nanoparticles absorbed through the skin?

To understand the impact of these exposures on health and how best to devise appropriate exposure monitoring and control strategies, much research is needed. Until a clearer picture emerges, the limited evidence available would suggest caution when potential exposures to nanoparticles may occur.

An excellent Web site to monitor for health and safety information related to nanotechnology activities is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Health and Safety Topic section devoted to these issues at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/default.html.

nano images
(Nanoscience images courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory)