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VeilleNanos - Nanos in the construction industry

Nanos in the construction industry

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Nanos in the construction industry

By the AVICENN team – Last updated September 2022

The construction industry is one of the top users of nanomaterials1 See the number 1 sector according to the report Industrial realities in the field of nanomaterials in France – Analysis of the reality of the weight of nanomaterials in the industrial sector concerned, D&Consultants for the General Directorate for Competitiveness, Industry and Services (DGCIS, of the Ministry of Productive Redress), June 2012 . A list of nanomaterials used in the construction industry is available in the annual reports on the mandatory declaration of nanomaterials, prepared by the French National Health and Safety Agency (ANSES) and published by the Ministry of Ecology2Cf: https://www.ecologie.gouv.fr/nanomateriaux#e3.

In which construction products are nanomaterials found?

Self-cleaning windows, stained wood, cement and concrete3See in particular:
Fracture toughness of one- and two-dimensional nanoreinforced cement via scratch testing, Akono AT, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A., 379, 2203, August 2021
Strengthening cements by incorporating nanomaterials, Techniques de l’ingénieur, September 10, 2021
Nanos in concrete, Mathieu Porchet, Founding Partner at prllx, June 16, 2020
, paint4See in particular:
Pigments: The oldest nanomaterials in human history facing modern day challenges, Eurocolour & VDMI, Nanopinion, EUON, June 2020
How about a little thought to lower the air conditioning bill, batiactu, February 2019: “a white ceramic nanoparticle paint for flat roofs can lower the air conditioning bill for large buildings”
List of nano-pigments on the EU market: More than 80 nano-sized pigments have been identified on the European market in 2018 by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
(particularly so-called “depolluting” cements and paint, whose benefit-risk ratio is not currently positive5See in particular: Paint to purify ambient air, CEA Liten, November 2020), varnishes, insulation materials, tiles and joints, switches, air ducts, sidewalks and roads6These are nanocoatings of concrete slabs designed by the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, which are supposed to break down nitrogen oxides (harmful urban pollutants) marketed in France by the company URBAPT. Cf. “Titanium: promises and risks of a depollutant” in La civilisation des nanoproduits, Jean-Jacques Perrier, éditions Belin, September 2017, nanomaterials are increasingly used in the building and construction industry.

However, there is no legislation requiring the labeling of products used in construction and public works, as is the case in cosmetics, biocides and food.

The R-nano register does not identify precisely the products concerned.

Nanomaterials do not (or very rarely) appear in the Environmental and Sanitary Declaration Sheets (ESDS for construction and decoration products) nor in the safety data sheets (SDS for substances and mixtures) despite the obligation, in force since 2021, to include information on nanoforms in SDS.

It is therefore necessary to cross-reference sources 7A few documents can help you, including:
Nano Pigments Inventory, ECHA, 2018: more than 80 nano-sized pigments identified on the European market
-The nanoshop.com website allows to find nanomaterials used in construction (glass, metal, …).
Elcosh NANO – Construction Nanomaterial Inventory, Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR): 400 products as of September 2014
Aide au repérage des nanomatériaux en entreprise, INRS, June 2014
Sheet to help identify nanomaterials (construction and public works), Direccte Bretagne, October 2013
, and interview manufacturers and suppliers, but with no guarantee of being be able to identify nanomaterials in finished products – except through laboratory testing.

What are they used for?

Nanomaterials are used in the construction industry for their new or enhanced properties compared to conventional materials, structured at the milli- or micrometer scale:

  • the Amorphous silica fumes, 100 times smaller than cement grains, have a very high surface area, from 15 to 30 m²/gram. As with the carbon nanotubes, they confer properties of fluidity or increased mechanical resistance, for “very high performance” concretes or nano-structuring repair mortars
  • the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles are praised for their ability to reduce fouling, under the effect of UV, of materials used in particular in the building works8Cf.:
    – “La Cité des arts et de la musique” in Chambéry, inaugurated in 2003, was one of the first buildings whose roofing cement included TiO2; it was soon followed by the police headquarters in Bordeaux and the Mermoz block in Maisons-Laffitte. Other examples of self-cleaning white buildings using titanium dioxide cements are the Italian Pavilion at the 2015 World Expo in Milan and the Jubilee Church in Rome, inaugurated in 2007″: “Le titane : promesses et risques d’un dépolluant” in La civilisation des nanoproduits, Jean-Jacques Perrier, Belin editions, September 2017.
    Nano-coating to protect buildings against pollution, Youris, September 2017
    – Eco-efficient construction and building materials, Torgal, FP & Jalali, S, Constr. Build. Mater., 25, 582-590, 2011
    – Application of titanium dioxide photocatalysis to create self cleaning materials, Stamate, M.; Lazar, G. Model. Otpim. Mach.Build. Field (MOCM), 13 (3), 280-285, 2007 as cement, ceramics, paints, varnishes

  • silver nanoparticles are used for their antibacterial or antifungal properties
  • aluminum oxide increases the scratch resistance of materials
  • nanofoams (hydro-NM-oxide) and nanostructures provide good thermal and sound insulation.

What are the associated risks?

Health and environmental risks

The large-scale use of materials containing nanomaterials is not without risks for the environment and the health of exposed workers.

  • In 2019, the European Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) 10Cf. Statement on emerging health and environmental issues, Scheer, 2018 issued an alert on nanoparticles released into the environment by construction materials and waste (during renovation and demolition processes, during recycling, landfill or incineration but also when nanocoatings are not properly fixed, when they degrade). It pointed out that nanoparticles that end up in aquatic systems can have adverse effects on aquatic and marine life and in soils. Essential microbial interactions may be disrupted. It deplored the lack of regulations requiring the labeling or identification of building materials containing nanomaterials, which hinders the necessary identification of the sources and flows of nanomaterials that may be released – as well as the assessment of the risks they may pose.
  • In 2019, an LNE webinar presented the risks associated with thermal degradation of nanomaterials in transportation and housing.

Without the possibility of identifying whether nanomaterials are present in the materials used in buildings, how can we be sure of their recyclability? This lack of information on the nature of materials poses a big problem for the circular economy in the building industry.

Economic risks

The risks are not only sanitary and environmental, they are also economic, particularly for the owners. As is the case for asbestos removal, still an issue today and very expensive11in particular 25 years of asbestos: the scandal continues, InfoDiag, Special Edition, September 2022, the authorities could, in the future, order the “denanoparticulation” of buildings, during paint renovation or demolition of a building for example, and the owners would have to bear the costs.

Precautionary measures in the face of risks

Since 2008, the Grand Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva has advised against the use of TiO2 nanoparticles on state construction sites and in private companies’ buildings12Health: straight into the wall… self-cleaning, Alternative Santé, January 6, 2016 and Report M 1741-A of the State Council to the Grand Council of Geneva, 2008. This decision was based on a study carried out by the Cantonal Service of Industrial Toxicology and Protection against Indoor Pollution which considers that it is “irresponsible to use such a product before even researching the known hazards and assessing their risks”, and deplores “the premature use of these products in Italy, France and Belgium” and wishes “that such carelessness is not repeated in our Canton”13Annex 2 of the previous document..

What research is done on this subject?

In France, INRS, INERIS, ANSES, CEA and other research organizations in France and abroad are working to find out more. We relay their publications when we find them.

At the French level

Of particular note:

  • The EnDurCrete project (2018-2021) conducted under the European Horizon 2020 research and innovation program aims to design innovative, “green” and sustainable concretes, incorporating industrial by-products and hybrid systems involving nanotechnologies.
  • The “Release_NanoTox” project (ANSES funding 2015-2018) which aims to provide, through a realistic approach, new knowledge concerning the potential impact of nano-objects from nanocomposite materials under stress of use, on brain functions. “The in vivo toxicological impact on brain functions associated with inhalation of an aerosol is still under-studied,” says LNE. The scientific teams have developed an experimental bench allowing them to perform a realistic exposure from TiO2 nanoparticles resulting from the sanding of nano-added materials. The Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) and the LNE (MONA Platform) participated in the aeraulic characterization phase of this bench and in the physicochemical characterization of the nano-objects emitted in the exposure chamber. Then ANSES and the CarMeN laboratory were involved for the inhalation exposure and in vivo analysis of the cerebral morphofunctional alterations of the mice during the exposure. The first results, which are currently being evaluated, show an alteration in the locomotor performance of mice exposed to paints containing TiO2 14See: –Chronic mice exposure to aerosol emitted from TiO2 nano-additives paints sanding: effect on locomotor activity, Demon F et al, Nanosafe 2018, November 2018
    In vivo evaluation of the potential neurotoxicity of aerosols released from mechanical stress of nano-TiO2 additived paints in mice chronically exposed by inhalation, Maxinay S et al, J. Phys: Conf. Ser. at 838 012025, 2017
    Research Activity Report 2016, LNE, 2016
    .
  • The IMP-AIR project (Impact of photocatalytic materials on air quality in indoor environments”, CSTB, CEA): The market is seeing the development of nano-additive materials, many of which claim to have an air-depolluting action. The IMP-AIR project studied the efficiency, safety and durability of several photocatalytic materials subjected to different aging conditions: ceramics, paints, coatings and stains. The project provided new knowledge on the impact of these materials on indoor air quality. This concerns in particular the reaction by-products formed in the presence of a chemical pollution representative of the indoor environments, and the release of (nano)particles during mechanical solicitations.
  • The EMANE project: “Study of the release of manufactured nano-objects as a function of the ageing of nanocomposite materials dedicated to the building industry” (LNE, CSTB; funded by ADEME).
At the European level

At the European level:

  • The EnDurCrete project (2018-2021) aims to design innovative, “green” and sustainable concretes, integrating industrial by-products and hybrid systems involving nanotechnologies, for civil, industrial and offshore applications.
  • The NanoGeCo project aims to characterize the non-volatile fractions of aerosol paints in process applications of spray coatings.
  • A European research project called NanoHouse studied the life cycle of nanomaterials for construction, in particular on the chronic exposure for silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticles contained in paints and coatings used inside and outside of homes. The work conducted from 2010 to 2013 estimated the release rate of nanoparticles to be only 1 to 2% – and in the form of agglomerates15Research into the safety of nanoparticles – No nano-dust danger from façade paintEMPA, January 13, 2014; subsidized to the tune of 2.4 million euros by the European Commission, out of an overall budget of 3.1 million euros, the NanoHouse project ran from January 2010 to June 2013, with French partners the CEA and ISTerre. However, other studies are much less reassuring: a study by INERIS and the University of Compiègne published in early 2015 showed, for example, that titanium dioxide nanocoating applied to a building facade can deteriorate under the effect of sun and rain; in doing so, it releases titanium particles into the air within a few months – and moreover, in the form of free particles (more dangerous than when they are agglomerated with each other or with residues of other materials)16Cf. Shandilya, N et al., Emission of titanium dioxide nanoparticles from building materials to the environment by wear and weather, Environmental Science & Technology, 49(4): 2163-2170, 2015; a lay summary is freely available here : Nanocoating on buildings releases potentially toxic particles to the air“Science for Environment Policy”, European Commission, May 28, 2015, it is therefore appropriate under these circumstances to minimize the use of nanocoatings..


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Any questions or comments? This information sheet compiled by AVICENN is intended to be completed and updated. Please feel free to contribute.

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This sheet was originally created in February 2019


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