NIOSH recently published a new two-page brochure — "Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace: An Introduction for Employers, Managers, and Safety and Health Professionals," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2008-112. The document addresses four primary issues in summary fashion:
(i) Whether nanoparticles are potentially hazardous to workers. NIOSH admits "[l]ittle information is available about the hazards of nanoparticles in the workplace," and believes the following categories of information are necessary to adequately evaluate potential workplace exposure risks: type and concentration of nanoparticles; relevant toxicological properties; and dose concentrations. On this same issue, NIOSH acknowledges that there are some adverse animal studies regarding certain types of nanoparticles, but that human exposure studies are not currently available. NIOSH further notes that "[f]ire and explosion are the main safety hazards associated with nanoparticles in the workplace," and there are "[n]o US or international exposure standards." Accordingly, NIOSH recommends a "prudent approach to minimize possible worker exposure until more information is available."
(ii) Possible exposure routes. NIOSH identifies three possible exposure routes to nanomaterials in the workplace: (i) inhalation (most common); (ii) ingestion (hand-to-mouth and/or respiratory tract); and (iii) skin ("Some studies mention that nanoparticles may penetrate skin.") NIOSH perhaps downplays the controversy surrounding this last issue.
(iii) Measurement techniques. NIOSH believes traditional industrial hygiene measurement methods will be effective. However, NIOSH notes that scientists are currently developing better and more sensitive sampling techniques for ambient nanoparticles.
(iv) Exposure control. NIOSH recommends using engineering controls to reduce possible exposure to nanomaterials. These include source exposure controls, local exhaust ventilation, and HEPA filtration. NIOSH also notes that "[r]espirators should be considered if engineering and administrative controls do not control worker exposure to nanoparticles." Finally, NIOSH recognizes that good worker training is an important part of any exposure reduction program.
NIOSH concludes the brochure with a link back to its draft 2006 document — "Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology: An Information Exchange with NIOSH."