Nanotechnology

What are Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials?

Nanotechnology is “the understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale, at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers (nm)” (www.nano.gov). A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, which is near-atomic scale. Engineered nanomaterials are assembled from nanoscale structures such as carbon nanotubes and filaments or from nanoparticles of materials such as titanium dioxide or cadmium selenide. Nanomaterials can have unique physical, chemical and biological properties that can enable their use in novel applications, such as making stain-free textiles using nanoscale additives or surface treatments or targeting drugs selectively to cancerous cells. The continued development of unique nanoscale structures has the potential to impact many industries, including electronics, healthcare, construction and consumer products.

Nanomaterials in the Workplace

Some examples of workplaces that may use nanomaterials include chemical or pharmaceutical laboratories or plants, manufacturing facilities, medical offices or hospitals, and construction sites. The potential for nanomaterials to pose health or safety hazards is greater if the nanomaterials are easily dispersed (such as in powders, sprays, or droplets) or are not isolated or contained.

Exposure to Nanomaterials

The health hazard potential depends on the particular nanomaterial and a person’s exposure level. For example:

Current Occupational Exposure Limits for Nanomaterials

Few occupational exposure limits exist specifically for nanomaterials. Certain nanoparticles may be more hazardous than larger particles of the same substance. Therefore, existing occupational exposure limits for a substance may not provide adequate protection from nanoparticles of that substance. However, some specific exposure limits already exist. For example:

Methods Employers Can Use to Reduce Worker Exposure to Nanomaterials

Because the research and use of nanomaterials continues to expand and information about potential health effects and exposure limits for these nanomaterials is still being developed, employers should use a combination of the following measures and best practices to control potential exposures:

Engineering Controls

Administrative Controls

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Medical Screening and Surveillance