Frequently asked questions

Nanocentre supports manufacturers/businesses with practical, relevant information and solutions with regards to safety of nanomaterials. Nanocentre is thus a central point of information for all knowledge about nanomaterials with a focus on Dutch and Flemish companies, particularly small and medium enterprises.
 
In 2011 a survey was held among companies to investigate the safety issues of interest. The results of the survey are presented here. New (anonymized) questions can be added in future if they are of general interest to Nanocentre. 
 
The Public Health Institute of the Netherlands (RIVM) contributes to the answers of frequently asked questions regarding safety of nanomaterials.

Do I work with nanomaterials?

In general, all materials with one or more dimensions between 1 – 100 nanometres are defined as nanomaterials. However, there is much debate about the nanomaterial definition.  At present it is not legally required to include information about particle size on the safety data sheet (SDS), therefore it is not always possible to deduce from the SDS if a product contains nanomaterials. One way to find out is to ask the supplier. In addition, certain characteristics of a product or material can suggest that a product contains nanomaterial. It is also possible to perform analytical tests on a product to determine if there is a presence of nanomaterials.


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Indepth questions

Am I exposed to nanomaterials?

One can be exposed to a chemical substance in the workplace by swallowing it, via skin contact or by inhalation. Inhalation is considered to be the major route of exposure to nanomaterials. The risk of exposure to synthetic nanomaterials is deemed negligible in the case that they are used solely in closed systems, in the case where products that are used with nanomaterials are enclosed in a firm (cured) matrix, or in the case where products are manufactured using nanotechnology but without nanomaterials. Exposure to nanomaterials can occur in cases where the manufacturing process is not fully closed, during handling of nanopowders, when working with dispersions of nanomaterials, and when machining (e.g. sanding) products with nanomaterials enclosed in a firm (cured) matrix.
 
The degree of exposure needs to be established, if nanomaterial exposure can occur at the workplace. Qualitative as well as quantitative methods are available to do so. Specific, individual measurements are preferable, but, if these data are lacking, one can use data from workplaces that are comparable in working conditions and in nanomaterials used. The comparability of nanomaterials is, however, still under debate. You can contact Nanocentre for more information. Finally qualitative methods are available to estimate exposure to nanomaterials. The methods can be used to characterise exposure at the workplace and to demonstrate the presence of synthetic nanomaterials. In this way you gain insight into those processes at work which likely present the biggest risk of exposure and thus need to be prioritized in the implementation of control measures of nanomaterials. 


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Indepth questions

Can my nanomaterial cause negative health effects?

Information about adverse health effects in relation to exposure is not available for most nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are generally more reactive than non-nanomaterials due to their relatively large surface area. The increased reactivity can induce cells of the body to produce large quantities of molecules such as oxygen radicals and inflammation messengers, which can lead to tissue damage and other adverse effects. Lists with safe and non-safe nanomaterials do not exist because the toxicity of nanomaterials depends not only on the chemical composition and/or size, but also on  characteristics like shape, electrical charge, coatings and the presence of functional groups. For example, two titanium dioxide nanoparticles with the same shape and size can have different toxic effects due to  coating differences.  
 
A health limit value can be derived for nanomaterials when sufficient safety data is available. Health limit values of non-nanomaterials cannot be used because properties differ at nanoscale. Data from comparable nanomaterials can be used, but only if the nanomaterials are proven to indeed be comparable.  However, the comparability of nanomaterials is still under debate. You can contact Nanocentre for more information.
 
If a health limit value cannot be derived, methods are available to categorize nanomaterials into hazard classes. 


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Indepth questions

How to determine that I work safely with nanomaterials?

Health risks can be assessed by comparing quantitative exposure data with a limit value or preliminary nano reference value. Potential health risks can also be estimated qualitatively in case quantitative data are lacking. According to the Arbowet, an employer must take into account the occupational hygiene strategy when implementing control measures. This also applies to measures to reduce risks when working with synthetic nanoparticles. The occupational hygiene strategy is applicable when actions are taken.


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Indepth questions

Do you have more questions?

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