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 is generally defined as engineered structures, devices, and systems. Nanomaterials are defined as those things that 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.
Workers within nanotechnology-related industries have the potential to be exposed to uniquely engineered materials with 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.
Studies have indicated that low solubility nanoparticles are more toxic than larger particles on a mass for mass basis. There are strong indications that particle surface area and surface chemistry are responsible 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.
Research and activities are coordinated through the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) established in 2004.