The AIHA Aerosol Technology and ACGIH Air Sampling Instruments Committees jointly sponsored a forum that described progress in an ongoing program at NIOSH on the development and evaluation of analytical methods for airborne metals using field portable instruments. The program consists of four distinct projects encompassing instrument selection, method evaluation, method development, workplace applications and communication interventions encouraging method use. Since its inception in 2000, the program has focused on workplaces such as metal mines and construction sites. However, the events of September 2001 raised concerns over "dirty bombs" and other disasters, that could release airborne metals in sufficient concentrations to jeopardize the health of rescue workers and survivors. In all of these cases, methods using field portable instruments could be valuable for on-site exposure assessments and selection of appropriate engineering controls and personal protection equipment. The health impact of airborne metal exposures in the workplace depends on the nature and duration of the task. Traditionally, air samples are collected on filters, which are sent off-site for analysis by fixed-site laboratory methods. Analytical results can take weeks or even months to arrive. Methods using field-portable instruments allow the screening or analysis of samples on location with same-day speed. The methods can be used with laboratory-based analytical methods where the screening method indicates exposures close to or exceeding the occupational exposure limit, thereby reducing the number of samples sent to laboratories and making exposure assessment strategies more cost-efficient.
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