Nanoscience is a new field of specialty involving engineered particles that are almost too tiny to imagine. All over the Internet, they are touted as being much smaller than the width of a human hair.
In the natural world, materials on the nano scale include volcanic ash and soot.
Nanoparticles may be tiny versions of their bulk sources or engineered into something else. According to Safety and Health Magazine, engineered nanoparticles gain new properties when they are microscopically sized. For example, used in finished products, the particles can make them lighter or stronger, or contribute insulation properties.
Since about 2000, a variety of industries have begun to use nanoparticles in products:
- Sporting goods
- Cable and wire coating
- And others
Safety concerns for nanotech workers
Of course, any time an invisible substance is involved, you must be concerned about its potential to harm workers. Think, for example, about the history of asbestos, in which the invisible particles were breathed in in a variety of work settings only to cause fatal cancers in some workers decades later.
In fact, NIOSH states online that exposure to nanomaterials could reasonably imply results similar to “ultrafine air pollution or other dusts and fumes that cause pulmonary and cardiovascular effects.” Protective worker equipment may include respirators, glasses, globes and protective clothing.
Safety and Health explains that individual companies are developing their own safety practices to some extent, but that NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, is the government agency is leading nanoparticle safety research.
NIOSH is one of the 20 agencies making up the National Nanotechnology Initiative. NIOSH’s Nanotechnology Research Center is active in the field doing onsite nanotech workplace assessments, providing employer guidance and collaborating on research.
Chuck Geraci, NIOSH’s associate director for nanotechnology, says that while the field is evolving very quickly, they are working on the health and safety front to stay ahead of potential injury from working with the particles.
The World Health Organization or WHO released the first set of health and safety guidelines for workers in the nanotech sectors. (The Safety and Health Magazine article linked to above contains links to the WHO guidelines as well as to four safety documents from NIOSH.)
At our law firm, we are dedicated to Maryland worker safety. Anyone who suspects injury from exposure to nano particles should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible about workers’ compensation and other potential legal remedies.