Nanotechnology safety in workplace neglected
9 January 2007
Washington, USA. Little is known about the potential
risks of nanotechnology even though there are more than 400 products on the
A strategic plan and more resources for risk research are needed
now in order to ensure safe nano-workplaces. That is the conclusion of the
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' Chief Science Advisor Andrew Maynard
in a new article, "Nanotechnology and Safety" just released by Cleanroom
Technology magazine. The article is available in the magazine's December
2006 / January 2007 issue and is freely available online at
Last year, nanotechnology was
incorporated into $30 billion in manufactured goods — a number predicted to
grow to $2.6 trillion in annual manufactured goods by 2014. Already, there
are almost 400 manufacturer- identified nanotechnology-based consumer
products on the market — ranging from computer chips to automobile parts and
from clothing to cosmetics and dietary supplements (see:
www.nanotechproject.org/consumerproducts ). By 2015, the National
Science Foundation estimates that the nanotechnology sector will employ more
than 2 million workers in the US.
But little is known about potential
risks in many areas of nanotechnology — including worker exposures. Funding
for risk-focused research is a small fraction of what is being spent on
nanotechnology commercial applications.
"Because nanotechnology is a way
of doing or making things rather than a discrete technology, there will
never be a one-solution-fits-all approach for nanotechnology and
nanomaterials workplace safety," states Maynard. "That is why the federal
government needs to invest a minimum of $100 million over two years in
targeted risk research in order to begin to fill in our occupational safety
knowledge gaps and to lay a strong, science-based foundation for safe
In the short term, because of incomplete
information, Maynard stresses the need to supplement good hygiene practices
in the workplace with nano-specific knowledge. Until more research data is
available, Maynard proposes developing a "control banding" approach to
nanotechnology workplace risk — a course of action that is between inaction
and banning all nanomaterials as hazardous. This could involve selecting
appropriate control approaches based on a nanomaterial "impact index"
centred on composition-based hazard, and perturbations associated with their
nanostructure — like particle size, shape, surface area and activity, and
bulk-size hazard — and on an "exposure index" representing the amount of
material used and its "dustiness."
Andrew Maynard is an internationally
recognized leader in the fields of aerosol characterization and the
implications of nanotechnology to human health and the environment.
Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture
things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of
a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide.
The Project on
Emerging Nanotechnologies is an initiative launched by the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2005. It
is dedicated to helping business, government and the public anticipate and
manage possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology.
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies:
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: