During the last decade, the use of nanomaterials has become widespread in a wide range of applications, they are ubiquitous in medicine, cosmetics, building materials and other industrial products. But the health risks associated with many nanomaterials are still poorly understood. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has published a report describing how to address nanoparticle risk assessment issues and prevent hazardous human exposure.
Nanomaterials contain particles smaller 100 nanometres in at least one dimension, that is, one thousandth the diameter of a human hair. There is some concern that nanomaterials have particularly dangerous properties and research shows that at least some nanomaterials, such as titanium dioxide, are more hazardous to health than larger particles of the same material.
– Health risks vary depending on what substance or material the nanomaterial consists of, and in the foreseeable future there will be paucity of knowledge about the characteristics of some of the nanomaterials already in common use. This compels us to adopt a stringent methodology for risk assessment and to take measures to reduce risk, even though our scientific understanding may be incomplete. Applying the precautionary principle is one way of ensuring that steps are taken to provide adequate protection, even though nanomaterials may turn out to be more dangerous than we realize today, says Ann-Beth Antonsson, occupational health researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
In a project financed by AFA Insurance, IVL has developed a methodology for assessing the risks associated with human exposure to nanomaterials. This methodology consists of several parts. Methods for measuring exposure to nanoparticles are described and the potentials and weaknesses of different methods discussed. No position on exposure limit values for nanomaterials is taken, but proposals from a number of countries are evaluated and can be used to assess the levels present in the work environment. Procedures for limiting exposure are also discussed.
The methodology has been applied to measure levels of manufactured nanoparticles in industrial environments (colloidal silica) and in environments where naturally formed nanoparticles occur, for example in welding fumes and diesel exhausts. See Nanomaterials in the workplace, a report from IVL, On the measurement of nanoparticles in the work environment, risk assessment, and the application of proposed and existing limits and measures.