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It is a difficult question to answer as each nanomaterial (like each chemical) can have its own unique effects. The effects of the nanomaterials are not only based on the chemical characteristics but the shape, size, crystal structures, surface coatings, surface texture, surface charge, surface reactivity, and other factors can all impact how the nanomaterial might affect our health. In addition, the nanomaterial may not have the same characteristics as its “normal” sized particles material.
Hazards of nanotechnology are described further in the OSH Answers document Nanotechnology – General.
To control these exposures, use the hierarchy of control principles. There are four main methods of control, which should be implemented in this order:
The OSH Answers Hazard Control describes the general hierarchy of control process in more detail.
When performing a hazard identification and risk assessment, consider the following factors:
Because of the uncertainties about the toxicology of nanomaterials, steps need to be taken to reduce exposures to as low as possible. More information about the nanomaterial may be needed, such as what is known about the toxicological properties of that nanomaterial, or of the elemental components from which a particular nanomaterial is produced? (e.g., studies about humans, animals, or those done in a laboratory). What is known about the safety properties? Could these products be an explosion hazard?
Consider making a hazard map for any process using nanotechnology. Use a floor plan of your facility and indicate where there are hazards. You might target:
First, determine if you can eliminate or substitute the nanomaterial. For example, determine if it is possible to:
Engineering controls are methods used to remove the product, or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Inhalation is the most common route of exposure to airborne nanomaterials in the workplace. Ventilation is a control measure that can be used to reduce worker exposure to nanoparticles generated through various work processes. Where ever possible, design the entire work process to be enclosed and ventilated appropriately.
Examples for nanomaterial work include:
Local exhaust ventilation should be used for controlling nanomaterial exposure. Local exhaust removes the contaminant at the source and prevents it from entering the general work area. In their Workplace Design Solutions documents regarding exposure to nanomaterials, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends:
Each system must be carefully designed, installed, used and maintained in order to operate properly and to be effective.
Exhaust hoods capture the contaminant released by the process. Each should:
Because a local exhaust hood removes air from the workspace, for each one installed in the workplace, the general ventilation system may need to be adjusted to increase replacement air to balance the exhausted air with an equal amount of supply air. This adjustment will prevent drafts, pressure differences, and other fan operation issues.
Note that general dilution is, in general, not recommended to control nanomaterial concentrations because:
Please see the OSH Answers series on industrial ventilation for more general information about ventilation systems.
Administrative controls include work practices, education, training, and other measures.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last defence. Note that the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) cautions that PPE has not been widely tested for effectiveness against nanomaterials. Current testing only evaluates relative effectiveness such as percentage of penetration at this time. PPE selection should be re-evaluated periodically.
PPE may include:
All PPE should be inspected before use, and periodically for signs of wear. Dispose of gloves in a sealed plastic bag.