Nanotechnology and Occupational Safety and Health: What Do We Know?

Geraci, Charles L.

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Nanotechnology has been described as one of the fastest growing technological areas in history and has the potential to revolutionize global industry by changing and improving products in many sectors. The segment of nanotechnology that leads to the creation of new materials at the nanometer scale continues to move rapidly into active commercialization. These ‘nano-based’ materials and products will become more widely used and more complex in the coming years. As with any new technology, there are a number of unknowns which generate awareness and concern in the occupational safety and health community. Recent studies have indicated that there may be new and unique hazards associated with nanomaterials. The rapid growth of this technology presents a challenge to those charged to protect worker and public health. The National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH) has played a leading role in conducting research on the potential implications and applications of nanotechnology on workplace safety and health, and is committed to ensuring worker protection as this technology evolves.
NIOSH has developed a strategy to address and manage the risks of nanotechnology that applies existing knowledge gained from the study of ultra fine particles, and new data developed from a strategic plan of research to generate new knowledge. The Institute has developed and posted on its web site the document Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology: An Information Exchange with NIOSH to raise awareness of potential safety and health concerns from exposure to nanomaterials. In the absence of complete hazard data, this document promotes a risk-based approach to managing nanomaterials in the workplace.

This talk will present an overview of the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research program; summarize results and experiences; and cover some of the practical lessons learned from NIOSH field studies of nanomaterial processes. NIOSH maintains an interdisciplinary nanotechnology field team that will visit and assess various nanotechnology operations. The primary objective of the team is to develop evidence-based information to support experience-based recommendations that have been made for the safe handling of nanomaterials. A focus for the team is to characterize materials, processes, potential worker exposures, work practices, control procedures, and medical monitoring in operations where nanomaterials are developed, manufactured, or used. The information and insight obtained by this team will be shared.

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