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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 AVICENN Team – Last Modified June 2022

All-round nano exhibitions

With the rise of nanotechnology, many workers are now exposed to nanomaterials in a wide variety of activity sectors. They can be exposed throughout their life cycle (from the stages of R&D, production, use, machining1The machining of nanocomposites (such as plastic materials in which carbon nanotubes are inserted) can be a source of release of nanos into the air, see Webinar "Nanomaterials: what health risks?" What prevention? », Presence Paca-Corse TV, June 2022, packaging, transport, storage, maintenance, upkeep, dismantling, waste treatment, degraded operation, etc.).

Many sectors are concerned

Many sectors are concerned: building, textile, foodcosmetics, medical, Energy, automotive, aeronautics, electronics, etc.

… as well as all types of businesses 

All sizes of companies are concerned:

  • large multinational companies,
  • "start-up" and/or "spin-off" type companies from universities, engineering schools or research laboratories (CNRS, CEA, etc.),
  • SMEs and VSEs
  • craftsmen from BTP for example, but also hairdressersfarmers, nursing staff, bakers, etc.
  • without forgetting researchers, engineers, research and maintenance technicians, students and trainees, etc.

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:

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

The sectors where nanomaterials are handled are also those where the use of temporary work and subcontracting is strong (chemicals, construction, car repair, metalworking, printing and all forms of industrial maintenance, etc. ); temporary workers and subcontractors thereby are particularly likely to be exposed to nanomaterials2In general, the data shows that temporary workers are overexposed to risks at work. see Occupational exposures and health of temporary workers, Lapoire-Chasset M. et al., INRS, Occupational Health References, TF 300, No. 170, June 2022.

Many other indirectly exposed workers

However, we must not overlook the fact that occupational exposure to nanos can occur "indirectly" or "passively", downstream of the production chain and also concern many other categories of workers:

  • When used by professionals:
    • painters and masons required to apply or sand paints, cements, etc. containing nanomaterials
    • hairdressers / hairdressers et beauticians manipulating dyes and care products containing nanomaterials
    • farmers who use fertilizers and pesticides containing nanomaterials
    • nursing staff (nanosilver may be present on masks, gloves and gowns as well as disinfectants provided to healthcare professionals, or even on certain textiles and operating theater instruments; titanium dioxide nanoparticles are used in paints covering hospital walls)
    • bakers and pastry chefs, and other operators who manipulate nanoscale food additives
    • printers (inks and pastes for 3D printing)
    • firefighters, military and law enforcement whose equipment may contain waterproof, breathable and fireproof nanomaterials3See Alpex expands into technical textiles with the Italian NT Majocchi, Les Echos, April 21, 2022
    • ...
  • During shaping, cutting, sanding, drilling, repairing etc. products that contain: mechanics, mechanics, masons, carpenters, ...
  • During the collection, transport, treatment (regrouping, recycling) or disposal of waste (incineration for example)
  • When cleaning and maintaining premises and equipment: cleaners, cleaners and maintenance workers
  • During accidents (explosion, fire, loss of containment, accidental spillage): health and safety environment team (HSE), firefighters, SAMU, rescue teams

Therefore, the exhibition conditions nanos (quantity, concentration, duration, frequency, etc.) of these workers are highly variable from case to case.

…exposures that 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 transhumanism) both in the United States4The US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) bases its figures on estimates by Mihail Roco, instigator and co-director of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), structure of the federal administration in charge of promoting nanotechnology: the latter had estimated at 400 000 the number of researchers or workers involved in one field or another of nanotechnology in 2008 worldwide, including 150 in the USA. See Frequently Asked Questions – How many workers are potentially exposed to nanoparticles?, NIOSH: In November 2013, it read: “NIOSH is unaware of any comprehensive statistics on the number of people in the US 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 US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The SMALL TIMES magazine 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 on this subject the first chapter of the book Nanotechnology policies, Brice Laurent, CLM editions, 2010: The "revolution" of nanotechnology: 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
    , than in Europe5The European Commission stated in 2012: “According to estimates, the nanotechnology sector today directly employs between 300 and 000 people in the EU, and this number is growing” (Cf. Communication on the 2nd regulatory review on nanomaterials, European Commission, 3 October 2012). On closer inspection, this figure would actually 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's document refers to another Commission report, from the "High level expert group" on Key enabling technologies of June 2011, footnote 20 of which, page 13, refers to an OECD document, Nanotechnology: an overview based on indicators and statistics from 2009, itself referring, page 26, to a report by Roco and Bainbridge from… 2001! Problem, we have not managed to find these figures in the report in question, 280 pages long: Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, NSF Report, March 2001. Worse, the origins of this figure are lost in the maze of references and footnotes, but this does not seem to have shocked anyone, the institutions contenting themselves with copying them, without verifying them at the source or in examine the relevance, the references of each other (cf Cf. Nanotechnology policies, Brice Laurent, CLM editions, 2010, p.106)! and globally6Another projection by the same Mihail Roco evoked 6 million workers involved in nanotechnology on a global scale 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”, emphasizes the European Trade Union Institute (CASE) who deplores the fact that« none (estimate) was able to give precise and reliable figures on employment related to nanotechnology, or to specify the sectors from which the demand will come”.
    THECASE further underlines that the forecast assumes "a proliferation of jobs in SMEs, which will not facilitate their identification".
    In fact, it is still often a question 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 constitutes a non-negligible part of nanotechnology, it is a matter of going even further in integration (size and functions) but apart from research, overall, the manufacturers remain the same. See: See Aída Maria Ponce Del Castillo (ETUI), Nanomaterials in the workplace, what are the challenges for worker health?May 2013
    .
  • The national SUMER 2016/2017 survey does not allow statistical exploitation because the number of exposed workers is insufficient.
  •  Very few companies have agreed to enter the EpiNano device epidemiological monitoring of workers potentially exposed to nanomaterials, set up in 2014 in France.
  • The companies that produce, distribute or use nanomaterials do not all have the same level of knowledge about the dangers of the products handled and few are able to identify the people they expose. After passing the first link in the chain (that of the suppliers), the grain size of the materials used is often unknown and in the absence ofspecific labeling and safety data sheets (FDS) well informed, it is difficult to be certain of the nanometric character 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 prospects

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

To date, the French register r-nano does not list the number of potentially exposed workers. However, developments in this direction are expected12See R nano register – Assessment of the potential for use 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 nanoparticle state". However, we can imagine that the number of companies and laboratories concerned is in fact much higher because the term "declaring entity" in reality often covers several sites and/or laboratories.

The r-nano register should be further exploited by the Ministry of Labor and made accessible to all actors and prevention workers in occupational health in order to have a precise map of occupational exposure to nanos.

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

Many nanos are not subject to declaration due to the definition of the term "substance in nanoparticle state" used for declaration in the r-nano register13See the paragraph "Strainer effect" on our sheet on the R-Na registerno.

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

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

So far, the safety data sheets (SDS) are not well filled in

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

But since 2021, the product safety data sheets (MSDS) must certify the nanometric nature of the product14Since 2021, it is mandatory to specify in the SDS whether the substances or mixtures are in nanometric form. Regulation No. 2020/878, which modifies appendix II of the REACH regulation on the requirements relating to the preparation of SDSs, provides that the information specific to nanoforms from January 1, 2021 (by December 31, 2022 at the latest):
– the SDS must mention in each relevant section if it concerns nanoforms and, if necessary, specify which ones, and link the security information relevant to each of these nanoforms
– the SDS must indicate the particle characteristics that define the nanoform and, in addition to the solubility in the water, the rate of dissolution in water or other media relevant biological or environmental
– for nanoforms of a substance for which the n-octanol/water partition coefficient is not applicable, the stability of the dispersion in different media should be indicated
– for solids, the size of the particles [median equivalent diameter, method of calculating the diameter (based on number, surface or volume) and the range within which this median value varies] must be indicated; other properties may also be indicated, such as size distribution (e.g. in the form of a fork), shape and aspect ratio, state of aggregation and agglomeration, specific surface area and dusting.
. The situation should therefore improve, theoretically at least (in reality, we are still far from the mark for the moment).

A question, a remark ? This sheet produced by AVICENN is intended to be supplemented and updated. Please feel free to contribute.

The next nano appointments

15
Feb.
2023
Unnoticed and ungoverned: How nanomaterials are slipping through the cracks (ECOS, Brussels and online)
Brussels and online
Conference
  • Hybrid event (face-to-face and online)
  • Organizers: Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), Friends of the Earth Germany (FEDERATION)
  • Speakers: representatives of the European Commission, civil society and research  
  • Website : https://ecostandard.org/…
5
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NanoSafe conference 2023 (CEA, Grenoble)
Grenoble
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  • 8th International Conference on Health Issues for a Responsible Approach to Nanomaterials
  • June 5-9, 2023
  • Organizer: Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA)
  • Website : www.cea.fr/cea-tech/pns/nanosafe/…  
22
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How the world deals with Materials on the Nanoscale – Responsible Use and Challenges (OECD-BMUV, Berlin)
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  • International conference from June 22 to 23, 2023
  • Organizers: OECD, German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV)
  • Website : https://www.bmuv.de/…

Sheet initially created in July 2015


Notes & references

  • 1
    The machining of nanocomposites (such as plastic materials in which carbon nanotubes are inserted) can be a source of release of nanos into the air, see Webinar "Nanomaterials: what health risks?" What prevention? », Presence Paca-Corse TV, June 2022
  • 2
    In general, the data shows that temporary workers are overexposed to risks at work. see Occupational exposures and health of temporary workers, Lapoire-Chasset M. et al., INRS, Occupational Health References, TF 300, No. 170, June 2022
  • 3
  • 4
    The US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) bases its figures on estimates by Mihail Roco, instigator and co-director of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), structure of the federal administration in charge of promoting nanotechnology: the latter had estimated at 400 000 the number of researchers or workers involved in one field or another of nanotechnology in 2008 worldwide, including 150 in the USA. See Frequently Asked Questions – How many workers are potentially exposed to nanoparticles?, NIOSH: In November 2013, it read: “NIOSH is unaware of any comprehensive statistics on the number of people in the US 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 US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The SMALL TIMES magazine 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 on this subject the first chapter of the book Nanotechnology policies, Brice Laurent, CLM editions, 2010: The "revolution" of nanotechnology: 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: “According to estimates, the nanotechnology sector today directly employs between 300 and 000 people in the EU, and this number is growing” (Cf. Communication on the 2nd regulatory review on nanomaterials, European Commission, 3 October 2012). On closer inspection, this figure would actually 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's document refers to another Commission report, from the "High level expert group" on Key enabling technologies of June 2011, footnote 20 of which, page 13, refers to an OECD document, Nanotechnology: an overview based on indicators and statistics from 2009, itself referring, page 26, to a report by Roco and Bainbridge from… 2001! Problem, we have not managed to find these figures in the report in question, 280 pages long: Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, NSF Report, March 2001. Worse, the origins of this figure are lost in the maze of references and footnotes, but this does not seem to have shocked anyone, the institutions contenting themselves with copying them, without verifying them at the source or in examine the relevance, the references of each other (cf Cf. Nanotechnology policies, Brice Laurent, CLM editions, 2010, p.106)!
  • 6
    Another projection by the same Mihail Roco evoked 6 million workers involved in nanotechnology on a global scale 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”, emphasizes the European Trade Union Institute (CASE) who deplores the fact that« none (estimate) was able to give precise and reliable figures on employment related to nanotechnology, or to specify the sectors from which the demand will come”.
    THECASE further underlines that the forecast assumes "a proliferation of jobs in SMEs, which will not facilitate their identification".
    In fact, it is still often a question 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 constitutes a non-negligible part of nanotechnology, it is a matter of going even further in integration (size and functions) but apart from research, overall, the manufacturers remain the same. See: See Aída Maria Ponce Del Castillo (ETUI), Nanomaterials in the workplace, what are the challenges for worker health?May 2013
  • 7
    The investigations carried out in France were mainly carried out by the National Institute for Research and Security (INRS), in collaboration with the Center interservices de santé du travail en entreprise (CISME), the French agency for occupational health and safety (Afsset today ANSES) and the Institute for Health Surveillance (InVS).
    See in particular:
    – Honnert B and Grzebyk M, Manufactured nano-objects: An occupational survey in five industries in FranceAnn Occup Hyg, 58:121-35, January 2014 (a French summary is freely available in the article Exposure to nanoparticles in an industrial environment: difficulty of prevention du Scientific watch bulletin (BVS) from ANSES, March 2014
    – INRS, Nanomaterials, assessment and perspectives in occupational health and safety, Mr. Reynier, Industrial hygiene and safety, 232, September 2013
    – INRS, Identification of employees potentially exposed to nanoparticles, F.Jacquet, Occupational Health References, No. 132, December 2012
    – INRS, Survey on the industrial use of nano-objects: difficulty of identification by establishments, Honnert B. and Grzebyk M., Industrial hygiene and safety, 222, 3-7, 2011
    – INRS, Identification of employees potentially exposed to nanoparticles. Call for participationDocuments for the occupational physician, No. 122, 2010
    – INRS, Production and industrial use of nanostructured particles, Honnert B. and Vincent R., Industrial hygiene and safety, Briefing Note 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 noted subsequently by other bodies.
    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 it).
  • 10
    INRS, Nanomaterials, assessment and perspectives in occupational health and safety, Mr. Reynier, Industrial hygiene and safety, 232, September 2013
  • 11
    These were mainly "basic" nanomaterials: those used for several decades and which still dominate the market (titanium dioxide, carbon black in tires, synthetic amorphous silica in food, calcium carbonate, cerium, zinc oxide, etc. as opposed to more recent nanomaterials produced for the moment in smaller quantities (nanofibers, fullerenes, graphene, quantum dots), rather at the pre-industrialization stage
  • 12
  • 13
    See the paragraph "Strainer effect" on our sheet on the R-Na registerno
  • 14
    Since 2021, it is mandatory to specify in the SDS whether the substances or mixtures are in nanometric form. Regulation No. 2020/878, which modifies appendix II of the REACH regulation on the requirements relating to the preparation of SDSs, provides that the information specific to nanoforms from January 1, 2021 (by December 31, 2022 at the latest):
    – the SDS must mention in each relevant section if it concerns nanoforms and, if necessary, specify which ones, and link the security information relevant to each of these nanoforms
    – the SDS must indicate the particle characteristics that define the nanoform and, in addition to the solubility in the water, the rate of dissolution in water or other media relevant biological or environmental
    – for nanoforms of a substance for which the n-octanol/water partition coefficient is not applicable, the stability of the dispersion in different media should be indicated
    – for solids, the size of the particles [median equivalent diameter, method of calculating the diameter (based on number, surface or volume) and the range within which this median value varies] must be indicated; other properties may also be indicated, such as size distribution (e.g. in the form of a fork), shape and aspect ratio, state of aggregation and agglomeration, specific surface area and dusting.

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