The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has just today released in "Interim Guidance for the Medical Screening of Workers Potentially Exposed to Engineered Nanoparticles."  Before now, NIOSH was keeping mostly quiet on the issue of nanoparticles, and this report gives some insight into the agency’s consideration of the issues.

You may remember that NIOSH last made news concerning nanotechnology when it publicly disagreed with EPA’s determination to not treat nanoparticles as "new" chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act based on size only.  A review of that item appears here.

Today, NIOSH released its 35-page Current Intelligence Bulletin, and is also seeking comments concerning recommendations on exposure registries for nanoparticles.  However, like other agencies, NIOSH determined that there is not enough data to proceed to full regulation.  The Bulletin states, "Although increasing evidence indicates that exposure to some engineered nanoparticles can cause adverse health effects in laboratory animals, no studies of workers exposed to the few engineered nanoparticles tested in animals have been published.  The current body of evidence about the possible health risks of occupational exposure to engineered nanoparticles is quite small.  Insufficient scientific and medical evidence now exists to recommend the specific medical screening of workers potentially exposed to engineered nanoparticles." (emphasis original).  NIOSH even provides information on the limited data in Appendix D of the Bulletin.  However, the report is quick to point out that employers should not be precluded from considering "taking precautions beyond standard industrial hygiene measures."

The Bulletin provides insight into NIOSH’s thoughts about nanotechnology, including its definition of nanotechnology, which had previously been mostly unknown.  Because NIOSH admits to the shortcomings in the available data and information, it is expected that more will be forthcoming from the agency.  In the meantime, however, NIOSH makes some simple recommendations for nanoparticle protection, including controlling exposure to nanoparticles, conducting hazard surveillance for implementing controls, and establishing medical surveillance to evaluate the effectiveness of any controls.