NIOSH issues new research-based recommendations

On Nov. 8, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued new recommendations for controlling worker exposures to engineered nanomaterials during the manufacture and industrial use of those materials. The recommendations are based on technologies now applied in the various industries that use nanomaterials and on control methods that have been shown to be effective in reducing occupational exposures in other industries.

The recommendations are contained in a new document "Current Strategies for Engineering Controls in Nanomaterial Production and Downstream Handling Processes."

"As we continue to work with diverse partners to study the health effects produced by exposure to nanomaterials, particularly as new materials and products continue to be introduced, it is prudent to protect workers now from potential adverse health outcomes," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "These recommendations represent the kind of science-based guidance that our partners have requested, as a vital component for supporting the safe growth of nanotechnology and U.S. leadership in the global market."

Engineering controls are favored over administrative controls and personal protective equipment for lowering worker exposures, because they are designed to remove the hazard at the source, before it comes into contact with the worker. However, evidence showing the effectiveness of controls during the manufacture and downstream use of engineered nanomaterials in specific applications has been scarce.

The NIOSH recommendations fill a gap for science-based guidance that employers and workers can apply now, as research continues for better understanding of nanomaterial characteristics.

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.

Processes discussed in the new recommendations and for which controls are recommended and described include reactor operations and cleanout processes, small-scale weighing and handling of nanopowders, intermediate and finishing processes, and maintenance tasks. The document also includes recommendations for evaluating the performance of control technologies and control systems.

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