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March 5, 2009

NIOSH Issues Update Regarding Paper on Issues in Developing Worker Epidemiological Studies Related to Engineered Nanoparticles

Lynn L. Bergeson

According to a February 27, 2009, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Update entitled “Issues in Developing Worker Epidemiological Studies Related to Engineered Nanoparticles Are Discussed in Paper,” NIOSH scientists and a colleague from Emory University have prepared a paper concerning issues that researchers will need to consider in designing sound epidemiological studies of workers who may be exposed to engineered nanoparticles in the manufacturing and commercial use of nanomaterials.  According to the authors, even though the fundamental principles of epidemiology can be applied to engineered nanoparticles, researchers will face challenges typically not encountered in studies involving traditional materials. These challenges relate to the unique characteristics and properties of engineered nanomaterials, the relative newness of nanotechnology, and the fact that nanotechnology is not an industry in itself, but a process that may involve different industry sectors and occupational groups. The factors that would influence the design of an epidemiological study include:

  • Heterogeneity (the chemical and physical diversity of engineered nanoparticles);
  • Temporal factors (the challenge that nanotechnology, generally, has not been in use for the length of time it may take for some diseases to become apparent);
  • Disease endpoints (determining what diseases or symptoms to look for on the basis of limited research evidence);
  • Exposure characterization (determining what to measure and how to measure it); and
  • Study population (finding a group of workers for a study who have been exposed to the same type of engineered nanoparticle at levels high enough and for a long enough time to provide scientifically reliable and comparable results).

The paper will be published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.