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Current Occupational Health and Safety Concerns

Exposure to nanomaterials may occur through inhalation, dermal contact, or ingestion depending on how personnel use and handle them. The full health effects of exposures to nanomaterials are not fully understood at this time. For example, a peer-reviewed toxicity study on carbon nanotubes (CNTs) indicated that the toxicity of nanoparticles depends on specific physiochemical and environmental factors and thus the toxic potential of each nanoparticle needs to be evaluated separately [Helland et al., 2007]. Results of existing studies in animals or humans provide some basis for preliminary estimates of areas of concern. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)2 , studies to date have indicated:

  • Increased toxicity of ultrafine particles or nanoparticles as compared to larger particles of similar composition. Chemical composition and other particle properties can also influence toxicity. [Oberdörester et al., 1992, 1994a,b, 2005a; Lison et al., 1997; Tran et al., 1999, 2000; Brown et al., 2001; Duffin et al., 2002; Barlow et al. 2005; Maynard and Kuempel 2005; Donaldson et al. 2006].
  • A greater proportion of inhaled nanoparticles will deposit in the respiratory tract as compared to larger particles. [ICRP 1994; Jaques and Kim 2000; Daigle et al. 2003; Kim and Jaques 2004.]
  • Nanoparticles can cross cell membranes and interact with sub cellular structures where they have been shown to cause oxidative damage and impair function of cells in culture. [Möller et al. 2002, 2005; Li et al. 2003; Geiser et al. 2005].
  • Nanoparticles may be capable of penetrating healthy intact skin and translocating to other organ systems following penetration. [Tankenaka et at. 2001; Kreyline et al 2002; Oberdörester et al. 2002, 2004; Semmler et al. 2004; Geiser et al. 2005.]
  • Catalytic effects and fire or explosion are other hazards to consider. [Pritchard 2004].


2 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology: Managing the Health and Safety Concerns Associated with Engineered Nanomaterials (March 2009)


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