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July 5, 2024

NIOSH Highlights NTRC’s Work on Engineering Controls and PPE

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On July 1, 2024, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) posted a NIOSH Science Blog item entitled “Celebrating 20 Years of the Nanotechnology Research Center: Highlights from Engineering Controls and Personal Protective Equipment,” part of a series commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC). The item notes that NIOSH researchers “have conducted laboratory and field research to develop and implement science-based national guidance for respiratory and other [personal protective equipment (PPE)] to protect against nanomaterial exposures.” According to the item, major milestones and success indicators of PPE knowledge and advancements include:

  • Evaluating nanoparticles in the early years (2005-2008): NIOSH researchers focused on evaluating respirator performance in the nano-sized range.
  • Evaluating respirators against nanoparticles using test subjects (2012-2015): The item states that animal toxicological evidence suggests that a wide range of human health effects could result from exposure to engineered nanoparticles in the workplace. To address the concerns for nanotechnology, NIOSH researchers evaluated respirator performance against nanoparticles when worn by human test subjects to measure the simulated workplace protection factors for N95® and P100® filtering facepiece respirators and elastomeric half mask respirators as a function of nanoparticle size (20-400 nanometer (nm) size range). According to NIOSH, this was “the first study to measure respirator performance against nanoparticles under simulated workplace conditions and to determine performance differences between respirators with different filter series and different filter efficiency levels.”
  • Using portable instruments while conducting routine work (2014-2024): The item notes that recent advances in aerosol sampling technology have produced new portable aerosol instruments that are smaller and lighter than older ones. To bring new portable instruments to the workplace for sampling, NIOSH researchers developed a new method to demonstrate their utility and answer how portable instruments can be carried while workers conduct their routine work; and how portable instruments can withstand a working environment (including bending, side-to-side reaching, and other movements). According to the item, this new method allows for measuring respirator performance against aerosol particles in simulated workplace settings.

Looking ahead, NIOSH researchers plan to develop a new reliable aerosol testing method that can accurately evaluate the respirator penetration against workplace nanomaterials; evaluate the effectiveness of NIOSH-approved® respirators to determine whether existing respirator guidelines apply to workers exposed to nanomaterials; and compare nanomaterial penetrations determined by direct-reading and elemental carbon analysis methods. According to the item, NIOSH researchers continue to provide assistance and help workers to prevent work-related injury and illness by advancing the state of knowledge and application of PPE. NIOSH asks stakeholders who have any insights or suggestions about PPE research needs, relating to nanomaterials or advanced materials, to contact it at or respond in the comment section of the blog item. The blog item includes a section of peer-reviewed NTRC PPE publications, as well as a list of references.