Current strategies for engineering controls in nanomaterial production and downstream handling processes
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Current strategies for engineering controls in nanomaterial production and downstream handling processes

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    • Alternative Title:
      Nanomaterial production and downstream handling processes
    • Description:
      The focus of this document is to identify and describe strategies for the engineering control of worker exposure during the production or use of engineered nanomaterials. Engineered nanomaterials are materials that are intentionally produced and have at least one primary dimension less than 100 nanometers (nm). Nanomaterials may have properties different from those of larger particles of the same material, making them unique and desirable for specific product applications. The consumer products market currently has more than 1,000 nanomaterial-containing products including makeup, sunscreen, food storage products, appliances, clothing, electronics, computers, sporting goods, and coatings. As more nanomaterials are introduced into the workplace and nano-enabled products enter the market, it is essential that producers and users of engineered nanomaterials ensure a safe and healthy work environment. The toxicity of nanoparticles may be affected by different physicochemical properties, including size, shape, chemistry, surface properties, agglomeration, biopersistence, solubility, and charge, as well as effects from attached functional groups and crystalline structure. The greater surface-area-to-mass ratio of nanoparticles makes them generally more reactive than their macro-sized counterparts. These properties are the same ones that make nanomaterials unique and valuable in manufacturing many products. Though human health effects from exposure have not been reported, a number of laboratory animal studies have been conducted. Pulmonary inflammation has been observed in animals exposed to nano-sized TiO2 and carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Other studies have shown that nanoparticles can translocate to the circulatory system and to the brain causing oxidative stress. Of concern is the finding that certain types of CNTs have shown toxicological response similar to asbestos in mice. These animal study results are examples, and further toxicological studies need to be conducted to establish the potential health effects to humans from acute and chronic exposure to nanomaterials. Currently, there are no established regulatory occupational exposure limits (OELs) for nanomaterials in the United States; however, other countries have established standards for some nanomaterials, and some companies have supplied OELs for their products. In 2011, NIOSH issued a recommended exposure limit (REL) for ultrafine (nano) titanium dioxide and a draft REL for carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers. Because of the lack of regulatory standards and formal recommendations for many nanomaterials in the United States, it is difficult to determine or even estimate a safe exposure level. Many of the basic methods of producing nanomaterials occur in an enclosure or reactor, which may be operated under positive pressure. Exposure can occur due to leakage from the reactor or when a worker’s activities involve direct manipulation of nanomaterials. Batchtype processes involved in the production of nanomaterials include operating reactors, mixing, drying, and thermal treatment. Exposure-causing activities at production plants and laboratories employing nanomaterials include harvesting (e.g., scraping materials out of reactors), bagging, packaging, and reactor cleaning. Downstream activities that may release nanomaterials include bag dumping, manual transfer between processes, mixing or compounding, powder sifting, and machining of parts that contain nanomaterials. Hazards involved in manufacturing and processing nanomaterials should be managed as part of a comprehensive occupational safety, health, and environmental management plan. Preliminary hazard assessments (PHAs) are frequently conducted as initial risk assessments to determine whether more sophisticated analytical methods are needed. PHAs are important so that the need for control measures is realized, and the means for risk mitigation can be designed to be part of the operation during the planning stage. Engineering controls protect workers by removing hazardous conditions or placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard, and, with good safe handling techniques, they are likely to be the most effective control strategy for nanomaterials. The identification and adoption of control technologies that have been shown effective in other industries are important first steps in reducing worker exposures to engineered nanoparticles. Properly designing, using, and evaluating the effectiveness of these controls is a key component in a comprehensive health and safety program. 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 assessment of control effectiveness is essential for verifying that the exposure goals of the facility have been successfully met. Essential control evaluation tools include time-tested techniques, such as airflow visualization and measurement, as well as quantitative containment test methods, including tracer gas testing. Further methods, such as video exposure monitoring, provide information on critical task-based exposures, which will help to identify high-exposure activities and help provide the basis for interventions.

      This document was developed by the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART), Gregory Lotz, PhD, Director. Jennifer L. Topmiller, MS, was the project officer for this document, assisted in great part by Kevin H. Dunn, MS, CIH.

      Suggested citation: NIOSH [2013]. Current strategies for engineering controls in nanomaterial production and downstream handling processes. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2014–102.

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