ACTUAL QUESTIONS ABOUT SAFETY AT WORK WITH NANOMATERIALS

Marcela Rupová, Petr Skřehot

Occupational Safety Research Institute, Jeruzalémská 9, 116 52 Praha 1, ČR, rupova@vubp-praha.cz, skrehot@vubp-praha.cz

 

Abstract

At the present time nanotechnology is one of the most developing field of science. Despite of the huge progress in the basic research, many questions remain unanswered, especially those connected with practical applications of nanotechnology. Nevertheless nanomaterials are used almost in all fields of human doing and thus they are widely discussed, not only by scientists but also by general community. The debate on economic, social and ethical aspects of nanotechnology increases not only in USA, but today also in Europe. Safety and health protection at work with nanomaterials are very important issues to debate. In this article we focus on the most serious problems with safety of nanotechnology. These problems will be a main topic of the Scientific Hearing on risk assessment of nanomaterials at September 2009 in Brussels, which is organized by PEROSH (Partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health) and NEW OSH ERA (New and Emerging Risks in Occupational Safety and Health - Anticipating and dealing with change in the workplace through coordination of OSH risk research). Occupational Safety Research Institute, v.v.i. will represent Czech Republic on the symposium. A goal of our institute is participate actively in a work of this special committee. Whereas nanotechnology is a quite broad issue, we would like to collaborate with other Czech organizations either academic or industrial.

 

Key words: nanomaterials, PEROSH, NEW OSH ERA, occupational safety and health, research priorities, Occupational Safety Research Institute

 

Introduction

Nanotechnology has already vast potential uses in medicine, transport, construction, communications, textiles, cosmetics, food, chemical and ceramic industries, energy, aerospace, electrical engineering, in manufacturing of sports equipment or even everyday things. It can therefore be assumed that, as in the case of information technology, nanotechnology will gradually reach into almost all fields of human activity, and soon will frequently play o role in everyday life. Although nanotechnology is currently one of the most discussed topics of experts and the lay public, there are still some unanswered practical questions. The main question marks are associated with utility properties of nanomaterials and also their toxicity, which research is still at the very beginning. Potentially the most vulnerable workers in these days (with regard to professional exposure) are workers who come with nanoparticles into direct contact during their production, processing and laboratory research. For these reasons it is necessary to put a priority emphasis on the occupational safety and health (OSH) with nanomaterials. Safety issues of working with nanoparticles and their toxicity, especially protection from exposure to nanoparticles, are becoming increasingly important. This has to be solved globally and in parallel with other research. Having regard on the wide range of aspects and rapid development in the field of nanotechnology is a very difficult and long-term task, whose solution is impossible without cooperation between a number of experts from academia and industry.

 

OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH WITH NANOMATERIALS IN THE EU

In the European Community Strategy on OSH for the period 2007-2012 is laid down (by the European Commission) to Member States as one of the tasks the identifying of health risks of working with new materials and technological processes. In this context, it is also specifically mentioned working with nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. The European Union is addressing OSH issues to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), which is currently involved in an interesting project NEW OSH ERA (New and Emerging Risks in Occupational Safety and Health - Anticipating and dealing with change in the workplace through coordination of OSH risk research) [1]. This project is focused on emerging OSH risks and anticipating and managing changes in the workplace associated with those risks. As a part of this "new" risks (defined in sum of 7) are defined risks associated with exposure to nanoparticles [2]. In addition to EU-OSHA at the NEW OSH ERA project involved a further 19 subjects from the 11 most developed countries, which shows that the European Union attaches particular importance to this case.

Solving of safety issues of working with nanoparticles in the European Union is also ensured by partner research institutes organized in PEROSH association (Partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health). PEROSH has a total of 13 members (see Table 1) who are in charge of matters of health and safety at work in each country. The purpose of the partnership within PEROSH is (in cooperation with institutions of the European Union and national authorities of Member States) to strengthen European research in OSH, promoting information sharing and developing cooperation of the member institutes with another research centers. Czech Republic is represented in PEROSH association by Occupational Safety Research Institute (VUBP, v.v.i.).

 

Table 1: Partner institutes PEROSH [3].

Country

Institute

Acronym

Germany

Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin

BAuA

Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung

BGIA

Poland

Central Institute for Labour Protection - National Research Institute

CIOP-PIB

Finland

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

FIOH

United Kingdom

Health and Safety Laboratory

HSL

France

lnstitut National de Recherche et de Sécurité

INRS

Spain

Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo

INSHT

Italy

Istituto Superiore Prevenzione e Sicurezza sul Lavoro

ISPESL

Denmark

National Research Centre for the Working Environment

NRCWE

Belgium

Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Prevent

Norway

Statens arbeidsmiljøinstitutt

STAMI

Netherlands

Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research

TNO

Czech republic

Occupational Safety Research Institute

VUBP, v.v.i.

 

GENERAL SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS IN NANOTECHNOLOGY

Following a public discussion of members involved in the NEW OSH ERA and PEROSH association initiated by the European Commission the salient themes in OSH with nanomaterials has been set (below). This list will be discussed in detail within the scientific meeting convened in Brussels this September. Based on the results of scientific resolution the priorities for future research in the field of nano-toxicology (the new branch of toxicology) and OSH with nanomaterials will be identified and the international projects which aimed to solve them will be designed [4].

Similar scientific hearings are not nothing unique lately. For example, in 2004, the experts participating in the workshop "Mapping out Nano Risks" organized by the DG Health and Consumer Protection European Commission in Brussels, agreed on 12 general recommendations concerning the safety of nanotechnology and working with nanomaterials. These are the following recommendations:

 

PLANNED RESEARCH PRIORITIES IN THE FIELD OF NANO-TOXICOLOGY AND SAFETY OF NANOTECHNOLOGY

EU Competent Authorities agreed that the current available data on toxic properties and the possibilities of exposure to synthetic nanoparticles are inadequate and insufficient for comprehensive, detailed and much-needed risk assessment of their potential effects on human health. Research in field of nano-safety (safety of nanotechnology), according to PEROSH and NEW OSH ERA representatives, should therefore concentrate on two main directions: (1) toward estimation of workplace exposures to nanoparticles and (2) toward the research of potential danger, which nanoparticles offer to individuals exposed to them. Among other important objectives of the research belongs the development of methods for monitoring and recording changes in the health status of exposed individuals.

Priority 1: Estimation of exposure to nanoparticles

For the correct and comprehensive risk assessment of exposure to nanoparticles is primarily needed to gain more data, especially from toxicology as well as about own nature of operations in which the exposures occur. It is therefore both the workers who are exposed to professional exposure, as well as end users of products containing nanoparticles. For all types of scenarios of entry of nanoparticles into the human body will need to develop a methodology for measuring exposure to nanoparticles and subject them to the testing and subsequent validation. One of the barriers in developing methodologies can be reduced possibility of the identification of man-made nanoparticles in the background of other particles naturally occurring in the environment. Another objective of future research is the development of methodology of testing of dust for selected types of manufactured nanomaterials and design standards, which would include determining the size distribution and the ability of aggregation emitted particles. It is attempt that the information gained would be subsequently included in the safety sheets of all manufactured nanomaterials. An integral part of research of exposure to nanoparticles is a design of method or system that would allow to analyze the collected data and conceiving their detailed database.

Priority 2: Estimation of potential risks of nanoparticles and nanomaterials

A second major direction of planned research OSH with nanomaterials is an estimate of potential risk of man-made nanoparticles for exposed individuals. However knowledge of the so-called critical rate of exposure to free nanoparticles in the work environment and for various work processes (processing, manufacturing, shipping, etc.) is necessary for solving this problem. These data should be ideally set for all types of manufactured nanomaterials, leading to further and more specific requirements for future research.

One of the specific requirements of future research on the toxic properties of nanoparticles is testing on laboratory animals, particularly inhalation tests on rats. It is assumed that of all possible ways of entry of nanoparticles into the body is the entry airways most likely to occur and it is usually associated with most serious consequences for the health of exposed individuals. Obviously it is not possible to conduct inhalation tests on laboratory animals for all types of man-made nanoparticles. However, it will be necessary to develop sufficiently robust and systematic inter-laboratory comparison of in vivo and in vitro inhalation toxicity tests. In this case all man-made nanoparticles would be first subjected to in vitro tests. With regard to this outcome the decision will be made which of them will be subjected to more detailed tests in vivo. These considerations are in their infancy and yet there is no available proven methodology for implementation of these tests.

Another priority for future research is to perform systematic studies of the effect of nanoparticles size, physico-chemical properties and functional capabilities on their overall toxicity. The results obtained are required for effective comparison of potential risks of man-made nanomaterials and also to assign the generally accepted number in the CAS registry.

Amount of (not only man-made) nanoparticles is often found in aggregate form. Very small particles have a high tendency for adhesion on the surfaces of larger particles, especially due to the presence of surface charge. It is therefore keen interest to focus research on the study of toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of nanoparticles in contact with larger particles. In this context should also not be forgetting the behavior of these agglomerates and free nanoparticles after entry into the body. There is lack of knowledge about the penetration of the skin, the movement inside organisms from the lungs (after inhalation) into other internal organs (also about their ability to accumulate here). It is presumed that the accumulation of these particles particularly in the central and peripheral nervous systems could have dire consequences for organism. Also their behavior to achieve biological limits (barriers) is surrounded by uncertainties, such as the surface of the lung or bowel surface, on which there is exchange of substances between respiratory, or digestive tract and bloodstream.

 

ACTIVITIES OF THE Occupational Safety Research Institute IN THE FIELD OF RISK PREVENTION OF NANOTECHNOLOGY WITHIN THE PEROSH ASSOCIATION

With regard to the development of nanotechnology in the Czech Republic and the need for future research in field of working atmosphere Occupational Safety Research Institute will focus on the evaluation of exposure to nanoparticles present in the working atmosphere in the form nanoaerosols. In this regard we would like developed (in cooperation with external institutions and qualified professional) a methodology for field determining the size distribution of nanoparticles in the working atmosphere, which would be usable both employers and public health protection authorities in assessing occupational risks at workplaces. In this context, we would like engage in (for the needs of the department of industry) the production of safety sheets for products containing hazardous substances in the form of nanoparticles. Since the VUBP, v.v.i. has long experience with testing and certification of personal protective equipment, we would like also participate in the development of effective means to protect respiratory system determined for risk prevention in industrial plants, where nanoaerosols can occur in the working atmosphere (for example incinerators, foundries, bakeries, paint shops, etc.). But since this is a very wide area of potential research, we try to obtain the cooperation of a number of other domestic entities, both from academia and from industry. In this regard we welcome the knowledge and interest in cooperation.

 

CONSLUSION

Estimated one thousand professionals are engaged in nanotechnology issues in Czech Republic.  They deal with basic and applied research focused primarily on examining the properties of nanomaterials and their preparations, imaging techniques, use in field of nanobiotechnology, nanomedicine, nanoelectronics and many other [6]. All of these people may be exposed to professional exposure and it is clear that their number will grow over time.

In 2008 (in cooperation with the main hygienist of the Czech Republic, regional health stations and the National Institute of Public Health) was conducted the questionnaire survey "Pasportisation workplaces with nanomaterials in the Czech Republic“. The results of this investigation showed that the 104 workplaces surveyed (research and production character) is treated with all known types of nanomaterials. The exposure of individuals is excluded or very unlikely in most research organizations. But there is same proportion between workplaces with possibility of exposure and without this possibility in field of manufacturing enterprises. In most surveyed manufacturing enterprises, the annual consumption of nanomaterials is less than one ton. In none of these workplaces have not been objectively reported health problems or injury to workers as a result of exposure to nanomaterials, but the undesirable consequences during chronic exposure can not be excluded [7]. Therefore, we should try to develop a collective initiative to ensure the safe handling of nanomaterials and determining their exposure. There is placed high priority to these issues in Europe now. We should not fall behind in this trend in the Czech Republic. It is therefore aim of Occupational Safety Research Institute to develop cooperation with other entities that are dedicated to the issue of nanoparticles and could by helpful in security research in this respect.

 

REFERENCES

[1]        Evropská agentura pro bezpečnost a ochranu zdraví. Roční plán řízení a plán činnosti na rok 2008. Bilbao : [s.n.], 2007. 35 s. Dostupný z WWW: <http://osha.europa.eu/cs/publications/work_programmes/2008>.

[2]        NEW OSH ERA [online]. EU-OSHA, 2006 [cit. 2009-08-30]. Dostupný z WWW: <http://www.newoshera.eu/en>.

[3]        Partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health (PEROSH) [online]. [cit. 2009-08-30]. Dostupný z WWW: <http://www.perosh.org/>.

[4]        Evropská agentura pro bezpečnost a ochranu zdraví, EU-OSHA : NEW OSH ERA [online]. 2009 [cit. 2009-09-01]. Dostupný z WWW: <http://osha.europa.eu/sub/newoshera/en/newsboard/public-consultation-on-the-safety-of-nanotechnologies-perosh-and-the-new-osh-era-network-submitted-joint-comment>.

[5]        PRNKA, T., ŠPERLINK, K. Šestý rámcový program evropského výzkumu a technického rozvoje (6) : Nanotechnologie. 1. vyd. Ostrava : Repronis, 2004. 70 s. ISBN 80-7329-070-7.

[6]        PRNKA, T., SHRBENÁ, J., ŠPERLINK, K. Nanotechnologie v České republice 2008. 1. vyd. Ostrava : Repronis, 2008. 348 s. Dostupný z WWW: <http://www.nanotechnologie.cz/storage/nanotechnologie_2008_CZ.pdf?>. ISBN 978-80-7329-187-7.

[7]        URBAN, P., MRÁZ, J. Závěrečná zpráva o plnění úkolu hlavního hygienina ČR : "Pasportizace pracovišť s nanomateriály v České republice". Praha : Státní zdravotní ústav, 2008. 11 s.