NIOSH Publishes Progress Report from Nanotechnology Research Center

On November 7, 2012, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) posted a document entitled Filling the Knowledge Gaps for Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace: A Progress Report from the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center, 2004–2011. NIOSH established NTRC in 2004 to address occupational safety and health concerns associated with nanotechnology. The progress report summarizes program accomplishments from the inception of NTRC in 2004 through 2011. It includes an analysis of the progress made toward accomplishing the goals and objectives of the NIOSH Strategic Plan for Nanotechnology Research and toward addressing the goals and research needs identified in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research strategy. The progress report states that NTRC “continues to support and promote the responsible development of nanotechnology through its ongoing research program and its contributions to the development of guidelines for hazard identification, exposure assessment, and risk characterization that can be used to develop and implement effective risk management practices.”

NIOSH Updates Nanotechnology Research Reports

On November 13, 2009, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released two nanotechnology publications. NOISH posted a document entitled Progress Toward Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace: A Report from the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center, Project Updates for 2007 and 2008. The Report updates the February 2007 version, which described the progress of the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) since its inception in 2004 through 2006. In the November 2009 Report, NIOSH describes program accomplishments achieved in 2007 and 2008. NIOSH states that the NTRC has, with limited resources, continued to make contributions to all the steps in the continuum from hazard identification to risk management. The second document, entitled Strategic Plan for NIOSH Nanotechnology Research and Guidance: Filling the Knowledge Gaps, updates the September 2005 Strategic Plan using knowledge gained from results of ongoing research as described in the 2007 report Progress Toward Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace: A Report from the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center and the 2009 update. NIOSH states that the Strategic Plan for the nanotechnology program is the roadmap it is using to advance knowledge about the implications and applications of nanomaterials.

NIOSH Seeks Comment on Strategic Plan for Nanotechnology Research

Last week the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requested comments on its Strategic Plan for NIOSH Nanotechnology Research and Guidance:  Filling the Knowledge Gaps (Strategic Plan).  NIOSH intends the Strategic Plan “to provide a tool for coordinating nanotechnology research across the Institute and to provide a guide for enhancing the development of new research efforts that will respond to the challenges of working with a new technology.” According to NIOSH, the Strategic Plan “represents a cohesive, multidimensional, and timely research agenda for addressing knowledge gaps concerning possible worker exposures to nanomaterials, the health risks from such exposure, and development of control technology and prevention measures.” Comments are due June 1, 2008.

The goals for NIOSH nanotechnology research are as follows:

  1. Determine if nanoparticles and nanomaterials pose risks for work-related injuries and illnesses;
  2. Conduct research to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses by applying nanotechnology products;
  3. Promote healthy workplaces through interventions, recommendations, and capacity building; and
  4. Enhance global workplace safety and health through national and international collaborations on nanotechnology research and guidance.

The NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) identified ten critical research areas that will be used to address the strategic goals:

  1. Exposure assessment;
  2. Toxicity and internal dose;
  3. Epidemiology and surveillance;
  4. Risk assessment;
  5. Measurement methods;
  6. Engineering controls and personal protective equipment;
  7. Fire and explosion safety;
  8. Recommendations and guidance;
  9. Communication and information; and
  10. Applications.

The NTRC efforts are organized according to the ten critical research areas.  NIOSH will identify and characterize hazards, assess exposure, characterize risk, and develop risk management guidance through targeted research in each of the critical areas.

NIOSH Reports Progress Made in Protecting Workers from Nanomaterials

In February 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a report entitled Progress Toward Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace, which summarizes the progress made by the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) since its inception in 2004 through 2006.  According to NIOSH, by redirecting existing resources, NTRC developed a research program that has made progress towards hazard identification and characterization, exposure assessment, risk assessment, and risk management.

NTRC’s goals, and progress made toward each, include:

  • Determine if nanoparticles and nanomaterials pose risks for work-related injuries and illnesses.

NTRC has conducted toxicology research on the properties and characteristics of nanoparticles that are relevant for predicting adverse health effects.  To gain further knowledge about exposure and control practices, NTRC established a field team to conduct assessments of workplaces where exposure to engineered nanoparticles may occur.  To date, this team has partnered with various companies that produce or use engineered nanoparticles to obtain information on potential worker exposures, control technologies, and risk management practices.

  • Conduct research on the application of nanotechnology for the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses.

NTRC has identified various possibilities for applying nanotechnology to occupational safety and health, including its application in fabricating more efficient filters, sensors, and protective clothing.  NTRC has also conducted numerous discussions with academia and the private sector on other potential projects.  Efforts are underway between NTRC, other Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) personnel, and the Georgia Institute of Technology to identify collaborative projects involving nanotechnology applications to occupational and public health problems.

  • Promote healthy workplaces through interventions, recommendations, and capacity building.

NTRC provided guidance for workers and employers in a document entitled Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology:  An Information Exchange with NIOSH.  Other information products on the NIOSH website include the nanotechnology topic page (with an extensive selection of frequently asked questions) and the Nanoparticle Information Library (NIL), which is a resource on particle information including physical and chemical characteristics.  In addition, NTRC convened a cross-federal group to develop a framework document for health surveillance of workers exposed to nanomaterials.  According to NTRC, this document will involve the business community to identify the range of issues involved in occupational health surveillance.

  • Enhance global workplace safety and health through national and international collaborations on nanotechnology research and guidance.

NTRC established several national and international collaborations to advance understanding of occupational safety and health for nanotechnology workers.  NTRC participates in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and has contributed to the nanotechnology strategic plan through the working group on Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI).  Occupational safety and health has been a major priority of the NEHI effort, and NIOSH’s strategic research plan and activities address most of the major issues in the NEHI plan. NTRC collaborated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to build cooperation, coordination, and communication between the U.S. and 30 OECD member countries, including the European Union (EU), and with more than 180 nonmember economies, as well.  NTRC is part of the U.S. leadership on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) TC 229 Nanotechnology Working Group on Health, Safety, and the Environment.  NTRC also works with the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers on global projects of information dissemination and communication.

The NTRC research program identified ten critical topic areas that it believes are important for understanding the potential health risks of nanoparticles and developing and disseminating recommendations.  The report describes each of these critical topic areas and the research being conducted. These topic areas are the core of the NTRC research program and represent the areas that are most critical to addressing occupational safety and health issues.  They include toxicity and internal dose; risk assessment; epidemiology and surveillance; engineering controls and personal protective equipment; measurement methods; exposure assessment; fire and explosion safety; recommendation and guidance; communication and education; and applications.  By working in these ten critical areas, NIOSH states that it “has comprehensively begun to address the information and knowledge gaps necessary to protect workers and responsibly move nanotechnology forward so that its far reaching benefits may be realized.”