NIOSH announces new nanomaterial exposure levels

Nanomaterials carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and carbon nanofibers (CNFs) can be harmful for workers in the manufacturing industry. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently revised its CNT and CNF exposure recommendations to help employers prevent work-related lung injuries among staff.

CNTs and CNFs can cause occupational illness in workers who are exposed to them during the production of many types of materials, most notably plastics and electronics. The nanomaterials cannot be seen by the naked eye, and specific precautions must be taken to prevent workers from inhaling or coming in contact with the particles. Workers who are exposed to the nanomaterials for a long period of time may develop adverse health effects, such as pneumoconiosis and lung fibrosis due to the accumulation of particles in the respiratory system.

The guidelines were published in the Current Intelligence Bulletin and are based on NIOSH laboratory findings as well as manufacturing observations. NIOSH recommended employers reduce worker exposure to the airborne chemical to the lowest concentration that can be measured, or 1 microgram per cubic meter of air. Previous recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) allowed general industry and shipyards to expose workers to no more than 15 micrograms per cubic meter on a time-weighted average.

NIOSH suggested businesses provide proper training for all workers on safe handling and disposal of the chemicals. Educating workers on machine operation and occupational safety is crucial to protecting employees from inhaling the dangerous nanomaterials. NIOSH advised employers to regularly monitor worker health and screen for any signs of respiratory disease to determine if additional steps need to be taken to reduce exposure.

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