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December 11, 2015

RAND Corporation Assesses NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) posted a RAND Corporation (RAND) report entitled Nanomaterial Safety in the Workplace:  Pilot Project for Assessing the Impact of the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center.  In August 2014, NIOSH asked RAND to help develop and apply a method for assessing its Nanotechnology Research Center’s (NTRC) contribution to improving the safety and health of workers who could be affected by the production, use, reuse, or disposal of the products of nanotechnology that are of greatest concern to workers, such as engineered nanomaterials.  The report describes the method used to construct the NTRC logic model and includes “insights and guidance” for gathering and organizing information about NTRC’s operations and their impact on or contributions to worker safety and health.  The report states that RAND, in coordination with NTRC leadership, identified a portion of the NTRC to pilot the method and search for evidence of NTRC’s activities and outputs that contribute to worker safety and health.  For purposes of the pilot study, RAND limited its data collection concerning NIOSH outputs and stakeholder engagement to information and organizations associated with nano-titanium dioxide and nano-silver.  RAND identified a set of common categories of NTRC activities and outputs, as well as classes of stakeholders, including workers and industrial, advocacy, governmental, research, educational, and training organizations, each of which uses NTRC’s outputs in ways that could contribute to NIOSH’s mission.  RAND also identified, with input from NTRC leadership, a small number of external customers and intermediate parties with whom to discuss NTRC’s outputs and services and how they are used to affect worker safety and health.  RAND states that the discussions identified potential factors that might be inhibiting NIOSH’s ability to achieve its desired outcomes.  For example, according to the report, “there is often not an explicit connection between the exposure to a particular nanomaterial, the health effect of that exposure, and the specific steps that should be taken in response to that exposure.”  The report states that “the pace at which new nanomaterials are being developed and used by industry appears to exceed the pace of safety and health research and regulations, which can lead to outdated and insufficient rules,” and that the “lack of formal regulations may be limiting the use of on-site exposure monitoring.”  The report notes that “premature regulation based on inadequate research and data may not be well received by NTRC customers and intermediate parties,” however.  RAND concludes that “[a] more comprehensive review of NTRC across industry sectors, NIOSH-defined critical topic areas, and engineered nanomaterials or nanotechnologies is necessary to more fully characterize the breadth and scope of NTRC’s success and barriers to achieving impact.”