Nanotechnology's Place in the EHS Workplace

One of Safety 2014's sessions covered nanotechnology in the workplace and what it means for the EHS professional.

ORLANDO - In one of Safety 2014's technical sessions on Monday, two EHS professionals - John Baker, CIH and Amanda Archer, CIH, CSP - discussed updating nanotechnology for the EHS professional for 2014.

The two presenters began by discussing what nanotechnology and nanometer scales are and what they mean for employee health. They pointed out naturally occurring nanoparticles - such as salt water - as well as types of modern day technology that exploit the use of nano particles, such as carbon nano fibers, water filtration, sunscreen and solar panels.

Next, Archer and Baker pointed out that nanomaterials and nanoparticles are here to stay. Some think they are hazardous, but they are just an emerging technology. "Nano means more surface area than mass, but it also refers to reactivity chemical, magnetic, electrical and optical.

The presentation continued on to explore the toxicity of nanomaterials and their effects on the respiratory tract. In fact, 80% of inhaled nanoparticles can reside in the respiratory system for more than 48 hours. In addition, 20-50% of the particles reach the alveoli.

To conclude, the presenters discussed the toxicology of nanomaterials. Their effects are still not entirely understood and research that explores their effect on those exposed to them is still ongoing. NIOSH has stated that they could be similar to welding fumes. The challenge for industrial hygienists today is that there is currently no authoritative OEL or OEB. To control toxicity in the workplace, employers can use HEPA filters and PPE control, such as respirators, nitrile gloves and Tyvek. In addition, when employees are doffing their PPE, it is recommended they roll down their suit so that particles do not spread.

Industrial hygienists can consult both NIOSH and OSHA for more information on the topic.

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