Nanotechnology


Current Public Consultation:

The Commission has launched a public consultation on transparency measures for nanomaterials on the market.This consultation is conducted in support of an impact assessment to identify and develop the most adequate means to increase transparency of nanomaterials on the market. Information on the public consultation may be found here and it ends 5th August 2014.

Introduction

Nanotechnology is a broad term which describes a range of technologies which operate at a scale of 1 to 100 nm (1 billionth of a metre). Materials at this scale display novel properties, which creates the potential for new applications with enhanced functionalities. Nanomaterials or (‘nano-objects’) are defined materials with one, two, or three external dimensions in the size range from approximately 1 – 100 nm. These include nanoplates, nanofibres and nanoparticles.

Worldwide research, surveys and projects have identified the principal areas involved in the use of engineered nanoparticles as information and communication technology; research and development of medical devices, diagnostic devices and pharmaceuticals; and industrial sectors such as the manufacture of paints and composites.

Legislative Obligations

In the Irish context, several health and safety instruments for the manufacture, import or use of chemical substances exist. Whilst nanomaterials are not explicitly mentioned in these instruments, the existing legislation for chemicals encompasses all chemical substances. Consequently, potential hazards associated with nanomaterials in the workplace must be identified, risk assessed and controlled. Although the same principles of risk management are applicable, it is important to take into account the data gaps that currently exist relating to the properties of nanomaterials and their interactions with living systems.

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Hazard Identification

Identifying the hazards arising from the different types of nanoparticles and related technologies is difficult because research on the health effects of some of these novel particles is still at an early stage. Substances may be evaluated based on the information in the safety data sheet(s), sections nine and eleven may indicate the particle size and any known effects on health, where that information is available. Please contact your supplier if you require further information.

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Risk Assessment

Owing to the information gaps in nanomaterial risk management, a cautious approach is advised, including providing higher levels of controls due to the uncertainty as to the existence or extent of risks of injury to the worker.. Risk management strategies should be reviewed regularly, particularly when new information becomes available.

Risk considerations include: the chemical composition; the hazard classification;  physical state (solid, liquid or gas); physical characteristics; potential exposure pathway; quantity handled; duration of activity; frequency of activity; controls in place and degree of reliance on personal protective equipment (PPE). The following four groupings may assist in the categorisation and risk assessment of nanomaterials, in no particular order:

  • Fibrous nanomaterials (i.e. insoluble and of a high aspect ratio)
  • Nanomaterials from CMR substances (i.e. the larger form particle of the substance is already classified as a carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxin)
  • Insoluble nanomaterials (i.e. insoluble or poorly soluble nanomaterials, but not fibrous or a CMR)
  • Soluble nanomaterials (i.e. soluble nanomaterials not fibrous or a CMR)

As with any chemical substance, inhalable and poorly soluble nanomaterials in addition to nanomaterials derived from known CMR substances represent the greatest concern. Nano-sized materials in general have an increased capacity to reach and interact with tissues in the body, potentially enhancing any adverse effects on health.

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Control Measures

Employers must apply the hierarchy of controls in order to protect their workers, in the absence of specifically developed occupational monitoring methodologies.

  1. Engineering controls to completely enclose the process and/or containment: All operations in which there is deliberate release of nanomaterials into the air should be performed in contained installations, or where employees are otherwise isolated from the processes (i.e. in a cabin) to minimise employee exposure. This includes gas phase nanomaterial production and spray drying. All other processes involving the use of dry nanomaterials should be performed in enclosed installations where possible. Based on current knowledge, systems normally used to contain gaseous emissions would be appropriate. All processes where there is a likelihood of dust formation should be carried out with extract ventilation.
  2. Administrative controls to minimise exposure: Procedural controls should accompany engineering controls, and as far as reasonably practicable, work with nanoparticles should be planned and proceduralised to prevent unforeseen exposure potentials. Administrative controls should include all work, including cleaning and maintenance operations.
  3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Respiratory protective equipment (RPE), dermal (hand) and/or dermal (full body) protection may be used as a last option in the hierarchy of controls. The (US) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is currently evaluating the effectiveness of RPE and other types of PPE such as gloves with respect to protection from nano-sized materials.

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Occupational Exposure Monitoring

Evaluation of occupational exposure has traditionally been carried out using qualitative and quantitative tools. However, conventional sampling and detection methods for carrying out occupational hygiene monitoring may not be adequate for nanomaterial sampling and detection. As a result, such methods are currently under review by the (US) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

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Further information

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