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Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce new structures, materials and devices. The technology promises scientific advancement in many sectors such as medicine, consumer products, energy, materials and manufacturing. Nanotechnology refers to engineered structures, devices, and systems. Nanomaterials have a length scale between 1 and 100 nanometers. At this size, materials begin to exhibit unique properties that affect physical, chemical, and biological behavior. Researching, developing, and utilizing these properties is at the heart of new technology.

Worker Risks

Workers within nanotechnology-related industries may experience exposure to uniquely engineered materials. This includes novel sizes, shapes, and physical and chemical properties. Occupational health risks associated with manufacturing and using nanomaterials are not yet clearly understood. Minimal information is currently available on dominant exposure routes, potential exposure levels, and material toxicity of nanomaterials.

Current Research

Studies have indicated that low solubility nanoparticles are more toxic than larger particles on a mass for mass basis. Particle surface area and surface chemistry are strong indicators for observed responses in cell cultures and animals. Studies suggests that some nanoparticles can move from the respiratory system to other organs. Research is continuing to understand how these unique properties may lead to specific health effects.

The NIOSH Effort

NIOSH leads the federal government health and safety initiative for nanotechnology. The NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC), established in 2004, coordinates research and activities.

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Page last reviewed: March 27, 2020