AIHce 2011: Nanotechnology Moving Out of Lab, Onto Shop Floor

As part of a Roundtable Discussion held Wednesday at the Oregon Convention Center, Geraci and a panel of scientists explored the topic of "Risk Assessment Applied to Engineered Nanomaterials: Managing Risk with Limited Data."

PORTLAND, Ore. — It's no secret that the use of nanomaterials is on the rise. As NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center Director Dr. Charles Geraci observed for the benefit of about 350 industrial hygienists at AIHce 2011, "It [nanotechnology] is coming to your workplace soon, if it's not there already. It is the new way of doing materials science."

As part of a Roundtable Discussion held Wednesday at the Oregon Convention Center, Geraci and a panel of scientists explored the topic of "Risk Assessment Applied to Engineered Nanomaterials: Managing Risk with Limited Data." The consensus was that exposure assessment is lagging behind nanomaterials use.

"As industrial hygienists, we all need to evaluate exposures, but we also need to develop new ways of thinking in order to do it," Geraci said. "We know exposures are happening now in the workplace—not 'might be' happening—they are happening, but we also know that good engineering controls are effective in limiting exposure."

Geraci and Dr. Gunter Oberdorster of the University of Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.) noted that engineered nanoscale materials come in many shapes and forms and have many chemistries. The size of the particles is an important assessment in their behavior, but there are currently considerable gaps in the global scientific community's knowledge of the variables for quantifying risk assessment of these materials. "If you're feeling a little frustrated right now, join the nano-measurement club," Geraci joked.

The actual practice of applying risk assessment techniques to engineered nanomaterials is not all clean rooms and electron microscopes, Geraci said.

"We're witnessing a changing nanotech workforce," he said. "It's moving rapidly out of the lab and onto the shop floor."

Multiple metrics are being used to assess exposure. NIOSH has even developed a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for use in the assessments, and Geraci noted the global IH community is working actively in the realm of exposure assessment efforts.

While the market for multiwalled nanotubes is globally not where it was predicted it would be five years ago, it has nevertheless increased 67 percent in the past two years, and that increase is expected to persist for at least the next five years, Geraci said.

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