Nanomaterial Exposure Poses Potential Risks To Workers

NIOSH recommends laboratories and research labs employ fume hoods to reduce nanomaterial exposure for workers.

NIOSH recommends laboratories and research labs employ fume hoods to reduce nanomaterial exposure for workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently issued new guidelines for limiting employee exposure to industry nanomaterials, according to Occupational Health and Safety Magazine.

The report by NIOSH, the leading federal agency for safety and health recommendations regarding nanotechnology, includes a hierarchy of engineering controls for use during the development of nanotechnology in manufacturing and other industries.

NIOSH defines nanotechnology as modifying atomic matter to create innovative structures, materials and products. While knowledge of occupational health risks surrounding nanotechnology is limited, NIOSH said studies have shown low solubility nanoparticles may be more hazardous than larger particles considering mass basis.

“As we continue to work with diverse partners to study the health effects produced by exposure to nanomaterials, particularly as new materials and products continue to be introduced, it is prudent to protect workers now from potential adverse health outcomes,” NIOSH Director John Howard said.

Howard said the organization’s suggestions are crucial for making nanotechnology safe and to keep the U.S. as a leader in the global market. In lowering health risk exposure regarding nanomaterials, NIOSH suggests workers exercise certain precautions, such as using engineering controls.

“Potential exposure control approaches for commonly used processes include commercial technologies, such as a laboratory fume hood, or techniques adopted from the pharmaceutical industry, such as continuous liner product bagging systems,” the report said.

Nanotechnology labs most likely to use fume hoods
The most common control used by nanotechnology firms and research labs is a fume hood, according to a survey conducted in 2006. Listed as a key piece of equipment for handling nanomaterials, fume hoods are effective control technologies especially for labs. In the survey, two-thirds of firms said they used a fume hood to reduce nanomaterial and chemical exposure for workers.

In the guide, NIOSH recommends a chemical fume hood for the process or task of small-scale weighing for the nanotechnology industry. Small-sale weighing involves workers weighing out nanomaterials through scooping, pouring or dumping of materials.

NIOSH said fume hood operators should put hoods away from certain areas that are vulnerable to cross drafts such as doors, window and aisles. Workers should also have exhaust air discharge stacks pointed away from these same areas.

In addition to nanoparticle exposure during nanopowder material handling, laboratory fume hoods can also guard against sources of natural nanoparticles, such as tree pollen, and could be used for welding fume extraction.

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