Sunday, February 26, 2012

As an increasing number of products using nanotechnology will start appearing on the market, how can we ensure that workers are protected making them potential hazards of working with materials so small?

If ideas of nanoscale science must be successfully integrated into our world, companies will make products that incorporate them. We often talk about potential security risks of these products to consumers who buy them, but what about people who do these things first

workers, engineers and scientists working on cutting edge products can be exposed to higher levels of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide (if they make sunscreens, for example) or carbon nanotubes that all other consumers who end up buying. And unlike traditional chemical engineering which regulates worker exposure to chemicals is not yet clear whether protective masks, filters and ventilation systems are sufficient to prevent harmful exposure to nanoscale substances last.

A number of regulations to protect workers against the effects of harmful chemicals, but too often pass through the nanoparticles. The recent introduction of the European Union REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) legislation, for example, was created to regulate the production, use and import of chemicals in the mainland, however, does not recognize the unique set of risks associated with nanoparticles. "Reach did not specifically refer to discrimination between bulk and nano form," said Mark Morrison, director of the Institute of Nanotechnology, Glasgow. However, with the nanoparticles, often the focal point of use is to operate in the way that the properties of a material or reactivity may change when their size is reduced. As such, a chemical that is harmless in bulk can be potentially dangerous in the near atomic scale.

A 2010 analysis by Prof. Maria Giovanna Mattarolo, a law professor at the University of Padua, Italy, showed that protection was not nearly enough. "The scientific understanding of the consequences of exposure and the definition of tolerance doses still seems limited," he wrote. Despite the commitment of a number of European and international organizations, there are still many unknown details on how nanoparticles interact with biological systems.

In an attempt to solve this control of the European Parliament adopted a resolution in December 2011 that nanoparticles should be covered by current EU health and safety standards as part of a 2007 - 2012 mid-term review of EU health and safety strategy, which is scheduled for late this year. Finally, it should include a review of the maximum exposure to toxic substances, including nanomaterials, said Karima Delli, the French Green Party MEP who drafted the rules. This, in turn, suggests, should require employers, management and the workers themselves to adapt the workplace to make it safer.

But Gabriel Aeppli, co-director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology, University College London, is skeptical about the resolution. "It's very vague," he said. The draft mentions nanomaterials only once Aeppli and questioned the need for this type of decision when there are Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines and codes of conduct in place.
In all cases, these risks can be mitigated by a good part of best practices, in particular by ensuring nanotubes, for example, are kept in a liquid to minimize the risk of inhalation. Control of the United Kingdom of Substances Hazardous to Health (2002) was amended to include a list of requirements for the appropriate use of air filters and ventilation systems in the management of the nanotubes. "It is not very different from what we are dealing with viruses and biological risks, in very small amounts of pathogens can have significant effects," said Aeppli. "There is a risk, but I think that you need to do more than bring practice into line with what we do with the biological. "

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