Date: 22 Mar 2012

Workplace exposure to nanoparticles and the application of provisional nanoreference values in times of uncertain risks

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Abstract

Nano reference values (NRVs) for occupational use of nanomaterials were tested as provisional substitute for Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs). NRVs can be used as provisional limit values until Health-Based OELs or derived no-effect levels (DNEL) become available. NRVs were defined for 8 h periods (time weighted average) and for short-term exposure periods (15 min-time weighted average). To assess the usefulness of these NRVs, airborne number concentrations of nanoparticles (NPs) in the workplace environment were measured during paint manufacturing, electroplating, light equipment manufacturing, non-reflective glass production, production of pigment concentrates and car refinishing. Activities monitored were handling of solid engineered NPs (ENP), abrasion, spraying and heating during occupational use of nanomaterials (containing ENPs) and machining nanosurfaces. The measured concentrations are often presumed to contain ENPs as well as process-generated NPs (PGNP). The PGNP are found to be a significant source for potential exposure and cannot be ignored in risk assessment. Levels of NPs identified in workplace air were up to several millions of nanoparticles/cm3. Conventional components in paint manufacturing like CaCO3 and talc may contain a substantial amount of nanosized particulates giving rise to airborne nanoparticle concentrations. It is argued that risk assessments carried out for e.g. paint manufacturing processes using conventional non-nano components should take into account potential nanoparticle emissions as well. The concentrations measured were compared with particle-based NRVs and with mass-based values that have also been proposed for workers protection. It is concluded that NRVs can be used for risk management for handling or processing of nanomaterials at workplaces provided that the scope of NRVs is not limited to ENPs only, but extended to the exposure to process-generated NPs as well.