nanoSAFE is a European consortium of twenty-four academic, research, and commercial bodies concerned with nanoscale material safety which is supported in part by the European Commission through its Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Members include BASF, P&G, Oxford University, and other premier European organizations.
The group recently released a report on the efficacy of respirators, personal protective clothing, and gloves in protecting against potential exposure to nanoparticles in the workplace — "Efficiency of fibrous filters and personal protective equipment against nanoaerosols," January 2008.
Three scientists from the French Energy Commission unofficially answered the question are "conventional protective devices such as fibrous filter media, respirator cartridges, protective clothing and gloves also efficient for nanoaerosols?"
The scientists first suggested that we must "[r]emove from our minds the vision of a skimmer-like behavior: only particles larger than holes tend to be stopped." Importantly, they noted that even though filter media fibers are micro-sized, they are very efficient in trapping nanoscale particles.
The study maintains that nanoparticles between 150-300 nm experience maximum penetration of filtration material, while nanoparticles smaller than 100 nm are subject to "random displacements due to Brownian motion which enhances collision probability with fibres." The scientists conclude that these random displacements make the fibrous filters even more efficient for nanoparticles.
Regarding the performance of protective clothing, the scientists found woven fabrics act similarly to fiber filter material. Nanoparticles between 100-500 nm maximum experience maximum penetration, and fabric screening efficiency increases as particle size decreases. The study also found that non-woven polyethylene textile (Tyvex) provided a superior barrier to nanoparticles than cotton and paper. Accordingly, the study suggested avoiding use of non-woven fabrics and clothing made with cotton when working with nanoparticles.
Finally, the study was less reassuring regarding hand protection. Particle penetration of commercially available latex gloves was significant in 30 to 80 nm particle size range. Thus, the scientists recommended using 2 layers of gloves when handling nanoparticles. Latex gloves from Kimberly Clark performed the best in tests along with vinyl gloves from DAK Tech. However, latex from other manufacturers performed poorly.