Nanotechnology has the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of a number of existing consumer and industrial products and could have a substantial impact on the development of new products in all sectors, ranging from disease diagnosis and treatment to environmental remediation. Because of the broad range of possible nanotechnology applications, continued evaluation of the potential health risks associated with exposure to nanomaterials is essential to ensure their safe handling. Engineered nanoparticles are materials purposefully produced with at least one dimension between 1 and 100 nanometers. Nanoparticles often exhibit unique physical and chemical properties that impart specific characteristics essential in making engineered materials, but little is known about what effect these properties may have on human health. Research has shown that the physicochemical characteristics of particles can influence their effects in biological systems. These characteristics include particle size, shape, surface area, charge, chemical properties, solubility, oxidant generation potential, and degree of agglomeration. Until the results from research studies can fully elucidate the characteristics of nanoparticles that may pose a health risk, precautionary measures are warranted. NIOSH has developed this document to provide an overview of what is known about the potential hazards of engineered nanoparticles and measures that can be taken to minimize workplace exposures.
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