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August 17, 2017

NIOSH Report Highlighting Second Decade of Research Agenda Includes Nano Developments

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On August 10, 2017, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a report entitled National Occupational Research Agenda:  Second Decade in Review | 2006-2016.  The report outlines the progress and impact made in addressing occupational safety and health research needs over the second decade of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA).  The 21 cross-sector programs included in the report include the Nanotechnology Program, which “conducts research and promotes adoption of approaches to reduce adverse effects of exposures to materials containing structures with a length scale below 100 nanometers.”  Impact stories in the report include:

  • NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits (REL) for carbon nanotubes and titanium dioxide provided the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with information to develop regulations to protect workers who handle engineered nanomaterials;
  • NIOSH methods to measure protective clothing’s resistance to nanoparticles contributed to new guidance documents, requirements, and test methods from other government agencies, organizations, and manufacturers;
  • NIOSH work led to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and EPA developing recommendations for working with multi-walled carbon nanotubes;
  • The NIOSH virtual Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) has supported or influenced more than 90 researchers in pioneering studies to understand better the potential occupational health and safety risks in the nanotechnology industry, and to incorporate effective precautions as the industry grows;
  • NIOSH work to measure nanoparticles penetrating respirators informs researchers and organizations developing new or revised standards in this area; and
  • NIOSH scientists invented a way to suspend carbon nanotubes in air while controlling the concentration of particles. The report states:  “This was a true breakthrough because it was the first time a well-characterized controlled aerosol of a carbon nanotube had been generated, providing a resource for studies on these minute particles, whose properties and characteristics are not well understood.”

In addition to the main report, NIOSH published the Sector and Cross Sector Program Supplement, which provides program-specific results on the work of each of the ten NORA sectors and 24 cross-sector programs developed by NIOSH to support the NORA sector program goals and objectives.  According to the report, the mission of the NIOSH Nanotechnology Cross-Sector Program is to provide national and international leadership in investigating the implications of nanoparticles and nanomaterials for work-related injury and illness, and to explore their potential applications in occupational safety and health.  NTRC developed an effective program of research resulting in a better understanding of the hazards of nanomaterials; methods to evaluate potential areas for worker exposures; guidance on hazard evaluation and risk assessment, including RELs; a framework for human health evaluation; guidance on engineering control strategies to minimize exposures; and general risk management guidance that ensures worker protection and promotes responsible development of nanotechnology.  The report states that onsite evaluations of nanomanufacturing process investigations allowed NIOSH to measure worker exposures and develop recommendations for techniques to control and mitigate exposures.  Key outcomes include actions from companies that have modified engineering controls, work practices, and in-house RELs.  NTRC-authored publications have been cited more than 5,000 times in the peer reviewed scientific literature; the primary citations have resulted in over 82,000 secondary citations.