Section 7L: Nanotechnology

SECTION 7: Safe Work Practices and Procedures


Nanomotor (click to see in motion)


Definition and Examples

Nanotechnology is the field of science dealing with material specifically engineered to sizes of 100 nanometers (ηm – 10-9 m) or less. Nanoparticles are produced for their unique characteristics not attributed to common material dimensions. The different types of materials that are used in nanotechnology research and application varies widely; however, here are a few of the more common ones:

Although many of these new hazards are still being investigated and toxicology research is in progress, few solid conclusions have been made about many nanomaterials. There are many things that we still do not know about this new technology. To properly protect against the unknown hazards that are involved while working with nanoparticles, conservative measures and best management practices must be exercised.

    • carbon
    • silver
    • gold
    • silica
    • titanium
    • polymers



Potential Hazards (top)

NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) has determined the following potential exposure and health concerns:

  • The potential for nanomaterials to enter the body is among several factors that scientists examine in determining whether such materials may pose an occupational health hazard. Nanomaterials have the greatest potential to enter the body through the respiratory system if they are airborne and in the form of respirable-sized particles (nanoparticles). They may also come into contact with the skin or be ingested.
  • Based on results from human and animal studies, airborne nanoparticles can be inhaled and deposit in the respiratory tract; and based on animal studies, nanoparticles can enter the blood stream, and translocate to other organs.
  • Experimental studies in rats have shown that equivalent mass doses of insoluble incidental nanoparticles are more potent than large particles of similar composition in causing pulmonary inflammation and lung tumors. Results from in vitro cell culture studies with similar materials are generally supportive of the biological responses observed in animals.
  • Studies in workers exposed to aerosols of some manufactured or incidental microscopic (fine) and nanoscale (ultrafine) particles have reported adverse lung effects including lung function decrements and obstructive and fibrot­ic lung diseases. The implications of these studies to engineered nanoparticles, which may have different particle properties, are uncertain.


Nanoparticle gold solutions

Recommended Work Practices (top)

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment  and take conservative measures to prevent exposure
  • Work with nanomaterials in liquid media whenever possible
  • Wear impervious gloves, labcoats or cleanroom suits, chemical splash goggles
  • Use enclosed control systems, such as a glovebox, for work with dry nanoparticles or when potential aerosol generation exists
  • HEPA filtration and wet wiping methods are both effective means of removing nanoparticle contamination

Additional Related Resources (top)

NIOSH - Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology
Strategic Plan for NIOSH Nanotechnology Research and Guidance
IRSST - Best Practices Guide to Synthetic Nanoparticle Risk Management

    Contact EHS for further guidance and recommendations to handle nanoparticle safely.

    Section 8: Chemical Spills
    Section 7K: Pyrophorics