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VeilleNanos - Who is exposed to nanomaterials in the workplace?

Who is exposed to nanomaterials in the workplace?

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Nano and Occupational Health: Who is exposed to nanomaterials in the workplace?

By the AVICENN team – Last modification June 2022

Exposure to nanos in all directions

With the rise of nanotechnology, many workers are now exposed to nanomaterials in a wide range of industries. They can be exposed throughout the nanos life cycle (from R&D, production, use, machining1The machining of nanocomposites (such as plastics in which carbon nanotubes are inserted) can be a source of release of nanos into the air, see Wébinaire “Les nanomatériaux : quels risques pour la santé ? What prevention?”, Présance Paca-Corse TV, June 2022, packaging, transportation, storage, maintenance, upkeep, dismantling, waste treatment, downtime, etc.).

Many sectors concerned…

Many sectors are concerned: construction, textiles, food processing, cosmetics, medical, energy, automotive, aeronautics, electronics, etc.

… as well as all types of companies

All sizes of companies are concerned:

  • large multinational companies
  • start-up and/or spin-off companies from universities, engineering schools or research laboratories (CNRS, CEA, etc.)
  • SMEs and VSEs
  • builders, craftmen, hairdressers, farmers, caretakers, bakers, etc.
  • without forgetting researchers, engineers, research and maintenance technicians, students and trainees, …

R&D and production workers on the front line

The first workers exposed to nanomaterials are those in the first links of the production chain:

  • in research and development (R&D): researchers, students, doctoral and post-doctoral students, engineers and laboratory technicians, technical maintenance personnel
  • in the production of nanomaterials, then their transformation or integration into products: engineers, operators in the chemical, cosmetics, food processing, automotive, polishing, etc., maintenance personnel.

The sectors where nanomaterials are handled are also those where the use of temporary work and subcontracting is strong (chemicals, construction, automotive repair, metal work, printing and all forms of industrial maintenance, …). Temporary workers and subcontractors are therefore particularly likely to be exposed to nanomaterials2In general, the data show that temporary workers are overexposed to risks at work. See Expositions professionnelles et santé des travailleurs intérimaires, Lapoire-Chasset M. et al, INRS, Références en santé au travail, TF 300, n° 170, June 2022.

Many other indirectly exposed workers

However, we must not forget that occupational exposure to nanotechnology can occur “indirectly” or “passively”, downstream of the production chain, and can also affect many other categories of workers:

  • When used by professionals:
    • painters and builders who have to apply or sand paints, cements, etc. containing nanomaterials
    • hairdressers and beauticians handling dyes and care products containing nanomaterials
    • farmers who use fertilizers and pesticides containing nanomaterials
    • healthcare personnel (nanosilver can be found on masks, gloves and gowns as well as disinfectants supplied to healthcare professionals, or on certain textiles and instruments in operating theatres; nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are used in paints covering hospital walls)
    • bakers and pastry chefs, and other operators who handle nanometric food additives
    • printers (inks and pastes for 3D printing)
    • firefighters, military and law enforcement whose equipment may contain waterproof, breathable and fireproof nanomaterials3Cf. Alpex expands in technical textiles with Italian NT Majocchi, Les Echos, April 21, 2022
  • During operations of shaping, cutting, sanding, drilling, repairing etc. of products containing nanos: mechanics, garage owners, masons, carpenters, …
  • During the collection, transport, treatment (consolidation, recycling) or disposal of waste (e.g. incineration)
  • During the cleaning and maintenance of premises and equipment: cleaning, housekeeping and maintenance agents
  • During accidents (explosion, fire, loss of containment, accidental spillage): health, safety and environment (HSE) team, firemen, emergency services, rescue teams

As a result, the conditions of exposure to nanoparticles (quantity, concentration, duration, frequency, etc.) of these workers vary greatly from one case to another.

Exposures are difficult to identify, quantify and characterize precisely

The identification and quantification of workers potentially exposed to nanomaterials remains very difficult to achieve today.

  • The official figures are based on estimates made by promoters of nanotechnology (and sometimes of transhumanism) in the United States4The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) based its figures on estimates by Mihail Roco, the initiator and co-director of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the federal administration structure in charge of promoting nanotechnologies: the latter had estimated at 400 000 the number of researchers or workers involved in one or another field of nanotechnology in 2008 worldwide, including 150,000 in the USA. See Frequently Asked Questions – How many workers are potentially exposed to nanoparticles, NIOSH: as of November 2013, it stated: “NIOSH is unaware of any comprehensive statistics on the number of people in the U.S. employed in all occupations or industries in which they might be exposed to engineered, nano-diameter particles in the production or use of nanomaterials. Perhaps because of the relative newness of the nanotechnology industry, there appear to be no current, comprehensive data from official survey sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The magazine SMALL TIMES has reported a partial figure. In a 2004 survey, it estimated that 24,388 people are employed in companies engaged only in nanotechnology. This total includes all people employed in those companies, not simply those engaged in research or manufacturing jobs that may involve exposure to nano-diameter, engineered particles. The survey did not include the number of people who may work in companies that engage in nanotechnology only as part of a larger corporate portfolio. The survey is expected to be updated this year, retaining its focus on employment in companies that are engaged only in nanotechnology.”
    See also the first chapter of the book The politics of nanotechnology The nanotechnology “revolution”: the result of a scientific policy, Birth of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and Nanotechnology Research Directions for Societal Needs in 2020: Retrospective and Outlook, Roco MC, Mirkin CA, & Hersam MC, WTEC report, September 2010
    as well as Europe5The European Commission stated in 2012, “The nanotechnology sector is now estimated to directly employ between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the EU, and this number is growing” (see Communication on the 2nd Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials, European Commission, October 3, 2012). On closer inspection, this figure would in fact come froma projection for 2015 made in 2001 (!) by the same Mihail Roco and William Bainbridge, linked to the transhumanist movement. Note 10 of the Commission document refers to another Commission report, the “High level expert group” on Key enabling technologies of June 2011, whose note 20, page 13, refers to an OECD document, Nanotechnology: an overview based on indicators and statistics of 2009, itself referring, on page 26, to a report by Roco and Bainbridge of… 2001! The problem is that we were unable to find these figures in the 280-page report in question: Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, NSF Report, March 2001. Worse, the origins of this figure are lost in the meanders of references and footnotes, but this does not seem to have shocked anyone, as the institutions are content to copy, without checking them at the source or examining their relevance, the references of some and others (see Cf. The politics of nanotechnology Brice Laurent, editions CLM, 2010, p.106) ! and worldwide6Another projection by the same Mihail Roco evoked 6 million workers affected by nanotechnology worldwide by 2020 (see The long view of nanotechnology development: the National Nanotechnology Initiative at 10 years Roco MC, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 13 (2), 427-445, 2011), but “this figure is not supported by explanations and it is therefore difficult to identify in which sectors these jobs will be created”. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) which deplores the fact that“none of the (estimates) were able to give precise and reliable figures on nanotechnology-related employment, or to specify the sectors from which the demand will come”.
    The ETUI also points out that the forecasts expect “a multiplication of jobs in SMEs, which will not make it easier to identify them”.
    In fact, it is still often a matter of transformation and not of job creation: it is often manufacturing processes that are modified to integrate nanomaterials, either in place of conventional materials, or to produce new properties. It is therefore difficult to list them. In the field of electronics, which is a significant part of nanotechnology, it is a matter of going even further in integration (size and functions) but outside of research, globally, manufacturers remain the same. See: Cf. Aída Maria Ponce Del Castillo (ETUI), Nanomaterials in the workplace, What are the issues for workers’ health, May 2013
    .
  • The 2016/2017 national SUMER survey does not allow any statistical exploitation because the number of exposed workers is insufficient.
  • Very few companies have agreed to enter the EpiNano program for epidemiological monitoring of workers potentially exposed to nanomaterials, which was set up in 2014 in France.
  • Companies that produce, distribute or use nanomaterials do not all have the same level of knowledge about the dangers of the products they handle and few are able to identify the people they expose. After passing the first link in the chain (that of the suppliers), the granulometry of the materials used is often unknown and in the absence of specific labeling and detailed safety data sheets (SDS), it is difficult to be certain of the nanometric nature of the product handled. When the information is known, it is not always taken into account in terms of health risk.

Obstacles to the identification of nanomaterials in the workplace and perspectives

The R-Nano register does not identify the number of potentially exposed workers

To date, the French r-nano register does not list the number of potentially exposed workers. However, developments in this direction are expected12Cf. Registre R nano – Evaluation of the potential for exploitation and sharing of declared data, ANSES, November 2020.

In the meantime, we only know that nearly 1200 French entities submit at least one declaration of “substances in nanoparticulate form”. One can imagine that the number of companies and laboratories concerned is in fact much higher, as the term “reporting entity” often covers several sites and/or laboratories.

The Ministry of Labor should make a better use of the r-nano register and the data made accessible to all occupational health actors and preventionists in order to have a precise mapping of occupational exposure to nanos.

The definition of “substances in a nanoparticulate state” leaves out many nanos

Many nanos are not subject to declaration because of the definition of the term “substance in nanoparticulate form” retained for the declaration in the r-nano register13See the paragraph “Sift effect” on our sheet on the R-Nano register.

Access to r-nano data is not allowed for occupational health services

The preventionists, and in particular the occupational health services that lead the regional occupational health policy in companies, do not have access to the R-nano data: they cannot therefore use it to identify sites at risk or exposed workers.

Currently, the safety data sheets (SDS) are not properly filled in

Safety data sheets(SDS) very rarely contain specific information on the nanometric nature of materials or on the risks associated with their use and the recommended means of prevention. At most, they provide data on parent material (at the micro or macroscopic scale) whose properties and risks are very different.

Since 2021, the product’s safety data sheets (SDS) must attest to the nanometric nature of the product14Since 2021, it is mandatory to specify in the SDS if the substances or mixtures are in a nanometric form. Regulation 2020/878, which amends Annex II of the REACH regulation on the requirements for the preparation of SDS, provides for the mandatory provision of specific information on nanoforms as of January 1, 2021 (by December 31, 2022 at the latest):
– SDS must state in each relevant section whether it concerns nanoforms and, if so, which ones, and link the relevant safety information to each of these nanoforms
– SDS must indicate the characteristics of the particles that define the nanoform and, in addition to water solubility, the rate of dissolution in water or other relevant biological or environmental media
– for nanoforms of a substance to which the n-octanol/water partition coefficient is not applicable, the stability of the dispersion in different media must be indicated
– for solids, particle size [median equivalent diameter, method of calculating diameter (based on number, area or volume) and the range in which this median value varies] should be given; other properties may also be given, such as size distribution (e.g., as a range), shape and aspect ratio, state of aggregation and agglomeration, specific surface area, and dustiness.
. The situation should therefore improve, at least theoretically (in reality, we are still currently a long way away…).

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

Upcoming Nano Agenda

6
Juin
2024
Managing the risks associated with nanomaterials (CEA, Grenoble)
Grenoble
Training
  • Awareness-raising aimed at personnel in contact with nanomaterials during research, formulation, production, maintenance, cleaning, upkeep, etc., as well as safety coordinators or engineers, facility managers, heads of laboratories where nanoparticles are handled.
  • Organizers: INSTN Grenoble (CEA)
  • On the agenda: potential impact on health; metrology and protection; control of potential risks associated with nanomaterials; consideration of societal aspects.
  • Website: https://instn.cea.fr/formation/maitrise-des-risques-lies-aux-nanomateriaux-sensibilisation
6
Juin
2024
Nanomaterials and Health (ANSES, Maisons-Alfort)
Maisons-Alfort
Dialogue Committee
10
Juin
2024
Nanoparticles NPC-24 (ETH, Zurich)
Zurich
Conference
  • 27th ETH Nanoparticles Conference
  • Organizer: ETH Zurich
  • From June 10 to June 14, 2024
  • Website: https://npc24.scg.ch

Sheet originally created in July 2015


Notes and references

  • 1
    The machining of nanocomposites (such as plastics in which carbon nanotubes are inserted) can be a source of release of nanos into the air, see Wébinaire “Les nanomatériaux : quels risques pour la santé ? What prevention?”, Présance Paca-Corse TV, June 2022
  • 2
    In general, the data show that temporary workers are overexposed to risks at work. See Expositions professionnelles et santé des travailleurs intérimaires, Lapoire-Chasset M. et al, INRS, Références en santé au travail, TF 300, n° 170, June 2022
  • 3
  • 4
    The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) based its figures on estimates by Mihail Roco, the initiator and co-director of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the federal administration structure in charge of promoting nanotechnologies: the latter had estimated at 400 000 the number of researchers or workers involved in one or another field of nanotechnology in 2008 worldwide, including 150,000 in the USA. See Frequently Asked Questions – How many workers are potentially exposed to nanoparticles, NIOSH: as of November 2013, it stated: “NIOSH is unaware of any comprehensive statistics on the number of people in the U.S. employed in all occupations or industries in which they might be exposed to engineered, nano-diameter particles in the production or use of nanomaterials. Perhaps because of the relative newness of the nanotechnology industry, there appear to be no current, comprehensive data from official survey sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The magazine SMALL TIMES has reported a partial figure. In a 2004 survey, it estimated that 24,388 people are employed in companies engaged only in nanotechnology. This total includes all people employed in those companies, not simply those engaged in research or manufacturing jobs that may involve exposure to nano-diameter, engineered particles. The survey did not include the number of people who may work in companies that engage in nanotechnology only as part of a larger corporate portfolio. The survey is expected to be updated this year, retaining its focus on employment in companies that are engaged only in nanotechnology.”
    See also the first chapter of the book The politics of nanotechnology The nanotechnology “revolution”: the result of a scientific policy, Birth of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and Nanotechnology Research Directions for Societal Needs in 2020: Retrospective and Outlook, Roco MC, Mirkin CA, & Hersam MC, WTEC report, September 2010
  • 5
    The European Commission stated in 2012, “The nanotechnology sector is now estimated to directly employ between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the EU, and this number is growing” (see Communication on the 2nd Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials, European Commission, October 3, 2012). On closer inspection, this figure would in fact come froma projection for 2015 made in 2001 (!) by the same Mihail Roco and William Bainbridge, linked to the transhumanist movement. Note 10 of the Commission document refers to another Commission report, the “High level expert group” on Key enabling technologies of June 2011, whose note 20, page 13, refers to an OECD document, Nanotechnology: an overview based on indicators and statistics of 2009, itself referring, on page 26, to a report by Roco and Bainbridge of… 2001! The problem is that we were unable to find these figures in the 280-page report in question: Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, NSF Report, March 2001. Worse, the origins of this figure are lost in the meanders of references and footnotes, but this does not seem to have shocked anyone, as the institutions are content to copy, without checking them at the source or examining their relevance, the references of some and others (see Cf. The politics of nanotechnology Brice Laurent, editions CLM, 2010, p.106) !
  • 6
    Another projection by the same Mihail Roco evoked 6 million workers affected by nanotechnology worldwide by 2020 (see The long view of nanotechnology development: the National Nanotechnology Initiative at 10 years Roco MC, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 13 (2), 427-445, 2011), but “this figure is not supported by explanations and it is therefore difficult to identify in which sectors these jobs will be created”. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) which deplores the fact that“none of the (estimates) were able to give precise and reliable figures on nanotechnology-related employment, or to specify the sectors from which the demand will come”.
    The ETUI also points out that the forecasts expect “a multiplication of jobs in SMEs, which will not make it easier to identify them”.
    In fact, it is still often a matter of transformation and not of job creation: it is often manufacturing processes that are modified to integrate nanomaterials, either in place of conventional materials, or to produce new properties. It is therefore difficult to list them. In the field of electronics, which is a significant part of nanotechnology, it is a matter of going even further in integration (size and functions) but outside of research, globally, manufacturers remain the same. See: Cf. Aída Maria Ponce Del Castillo (ETUI), Nanomaterials in the workplace, What are the issues for workers’ health, May 2013
  • 7
    The surveys conducted in France were mainly carried out by the Institut national de recherche et de sécurité (INRS), in collaboration with the Centre interservices de santé du travail en entreprise (CISME), the Agence française de sécurité sanitaire de l’environnement du travail (Afsset, now ANSES) and the Institut de veille sanitaire (InVS).
    See in particular:
    – Honnert B and Grzebyk M, Manufactured nano-objects: An occupational survey in five industries in France, Ann Occup Hyg, 58:121-35, January 2014 (a French abstract is freely available in the article Exposure to nanoparticles in industrial environments: the difficulty of preventing ANSES Scientific Watch Bulletin (BVS), March 2014
    – INRS, Les nanomatériaux, bilan et perspectives en santé et sécurité au travail, M. Reynier, Hygiène et sécurité du travail, 232, September 2013
    – INRS, Repérage des salariés potentiellement exposés aux nanoparticules, F. Jacquet, Références en Santé au travail, n°132, December 2012
    – INRS, Enquête sur l’utilisation industrielle des nano-objets : difficulté d’identification par les établissements, Honnert B. et Grzebyk M., Hygiène et sécurité du travail, 222, 3-7, 2011
    – INRS, Identification of employees potentially exposed to nanoparticles. Call for participation Documents pour le médecin du travail, n°122, 2010
    – INRS, Production and industrial use of nanostructured particles, Honnert B. and Vincent R., Hygiène et sécurité du travail, Note documentaire 2277, 2007
  • 8
    See in particular:
    Governance implications of nanomaterials companies’ inconsistent risk perceptions and safety practices, Engeman CD et al, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 14 (3), 1-12, February 2012
    Health and safety practices in the nanomaterials workplace: results from an international survey, Conti JA et al, Environmental Science & Technology, 42 (9), 3155-3162, 2008
  • 9
    The lack of transparency of companies on their nano activities has also been subsequently noted by other organizations.
    See in particular:
    – Novethic in 2010, cf. Nanotechnologies – Risks, opportunities or taboo: what communication for European companies? Novethic, September 2010
    Ofi AM in 2014: in a survey of 60 Stoxx 600 companies to find out about their use of nanoparticles, only 15 companies responded, and only 5 of them positively (either these companies handled nanomaterials but did not wish to communicate, or they handled nanomaterials but did not know).
  • 10
    INRS, Les nanomatériaux, bilan et perspectives en santé et sécurité au travail, M. Reynier, Hygiène et sécurité du travail, 232, September 2013
  • 11
    These were mainly “basic” nanomaterials: those that have been used for several decades and still dominate the market (titanium dioxide, carbon black in tires, synthetic amorphous silica in foodstuffs, calcium carbonate, cerium dioxide, zinc oxide, etc.), as opposed to more recent nanomaterials produced in smaller quantities (nanofibers, fullerenes, graphene, quantum dots), which are still at the pre-industrialization stage.
  • 12
  • 13
    See the paragraph “Sift effect” on our sheet on the R-Nano register
  • 14
    Since 2021, it is mandatory to specify in the SDS if the substances or mixtures are in a nanometric form. Regulation 2020/878, which amends Annex II of the REACH regulation on the requirements for the preparation of SDS, provides for the mandatory provision of specific information on nanoforms as of January 1, 2021 (by December 31, 2022 at the latest):
    – SDS must state in each relevant section whether it concerns nanoforms and, if so, which ones, and link the relevant safety information to each of these nanoforms
    – SDS must indicate the characteristics of the particles that define the nanoform and, in addition to water solubility, the rate of dissolution in water or other relevant biological or environmental media
    – for nanoforms of a substance to which the n-octanol/water partition coefficient is not applicable, the stability of the dispersion in different media must be indicated
    – for solids, particle size [median equivalent diameter, method of calculating diameter (based on number, area or volume) and the range in which this median value varies] should be given; other properties may also be given, such as size distribution (e.g., as a range), shape and aspect ratio, state of aggregation and agglomeration, specific surface area, and dustiness.

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