On 10th and 11th October 2017, the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) is hosting a scientific stakeholder meeting on Nanomaterials in the Environment at the UBA Headquarters in Dessau-Rosslau, Germany.
The meeting aims to give an overview of the results of research projects on nanomaterials in the environment, which were carried out and finalised in Germany and Europe in the current years. The meeting will also give a forum to present the state of knowledge on nanosafety to risk assessors as well as to discuss the results and their regulatory relevance between affected stakeholders.
This meeting involves representatives of science, industry, risk assessors, regulatory experts, and NGOs.
But what Nanomaterials are there??
Nanomaterials describe materials of which a single unit is sized (in at least one dimension) between 1 to 1000 nanometres, but usually is 1 to 100 nm (the usual definition of nanoscale). Materials with this kind of structure often have unique optical, electronic, or mechanical properties.It is important to say that now the nanomaterials are slowly becoming commercialized and beginning to emerge as commodities.
And what about the Health & Safety?
Considering that nanotechnology is a recent development, the health and safety effects of exposures to nanomaterials (and the acceptable exposure levels) are subjects of evolving research. Of the possible hazards, inhalation exposure appears to present the most concern. Animal studies indicate that carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers can cause pulmonary effects including inflammation, granulomas, and pulmonary fibrosis, which were of similar or greater potency when compared with other known fibrogenic materials such as silica, asbestos, and ultrafine carbon black.
Although the extent to which animal data may predict clinically significant lung effects in workers is not known, the toxicity seen in the short-term animal studies indicate a need for protective action for workers exposed to these nanomaterials, although no reports of actual adverse health effects in workers using or producing these nanomaterials were known as of 2013. Additional concerns include skin contact and ingestion exposure, and dust explosion hazards.
Elimination and substitution are the most desirable approaches to hazard control. While the nanomaterials themselves often cannot be eliminated or substituted with conventional materials, it may be possible to choose properties of the nanoparticle such as size, shape, aggregation state, (etc.), to improve their toxicological properties while retaining the desired functionality.
Engineering controls are physical changes to the workplace that isolate workers from hazards, mainly ventilation systems such as fume hoods, gloveboxes, biosafety cabinets, and vented balance enclosures. Administrative controls are changes to workers’ behavior to mitigate a hazard, including training on best practices for safe handling, storage, and disposal of nanomaterials, proper awareness of hazards through labeling and warning signage, and encouraging a general safety culture. Personal protective equipment must be worn on the worker’s body and is the least desirable option for controlling hazards. PPE normally used for typical chemicals are also appropriate for nanomaterials, including long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and closed-toed shoes, and the use of safety gloves, goggles, and impervious laboratory coats. In some circumstances respirators may be used.
Exposure assessment is a set of methods used to monitor contaminant release and exposures to workers. They include personal sampling, where samplers are located in the personal breathing zone of the worker, often attached to a shirt collar to be as close to the nose and mouth as possible; and area/background sampling, where they are placed at static locations. The assessment should use both particle counters, which monitor the real-time quantity of nanomaterials and other background particles; and filter-based samples, which can be used to identify the nanomaterial, usually using electron microscopy and elemental analysis.
As of 2016, quantitative occupational exposure limits have not been determined for most nanomaterials. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has determined non-regulatory recommended exposure limits for carbon nanotubes, carbon nanofibers and ultrafine titanium dioxide. Agencies and organizations from other countries, including the British Standards Institute and the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Germany, have established OELs for some nanomaterials, and some companies have supplied OELs for their products.
Let’s read also: What about Health & Safety?