By Brandon K. Butler
Nanomaterials are materials that have one primary dimension that is less than 100 nanometers (nm). Due to their small structure, they are very desirable for specific product applications. Nanomaterials are also found in a plethora of consumer products which include cosmetics, storage containers, lotions and electronic goods. Because there are many products which contain engineered nanomaterials, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new tool “Nanomaterial Production and Downstream Handling” helps workers to identify strategies/techniques for safety while producing/using engineered nanomaterials.
There are several factors that affect the toxicity of nanoparticles. These factors include, but are not limited to, physiochemical properties, surface properties, solubility and charge. Due to their greater surface area, they are more reactive than larger sized particles. Thus far, there have been no human effects reported from nanomaterial exposure. In the United States, there are no established regulatory occupational exposure limits (OELs) for nanomaterials. Due to the lack of regulatory standards for many nanomaterials in the United States, there is difficulty in determining/estimating an appropriate exposure limit. Nanomaterial exposure can occur by way of leakage from a reactor. Exposure can also occur by a worker’s direct handling of nanomaterials. Downstreaming activities such as bag dumping, manual transfer, mixing, powder sifting, etc. also promote exposure. These hazards should be managed as part of a comprehensive occupational safety, health, and environment management plan. Workers are generally protected by engineering controls due to removing hazardous conditions or creating a barrier between the worker and the potential hazard.
It is essential that facilities have control evaluation tools to ensure worker safety. These tools include time tested techniques (airflow visualization and measurement), as well as quantitative containment test methods.