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Nanotechnology Safety

UNC Chapel Hill is one of the leaders in research devoted to nanotechnology. Currently, there is limited occupational safety information on nanoparticles and nanomaterials in the university research environment. The Department of Environment, Health & Safety wants to ensure that employees using nanotechnology are aware of the potential hazards and risks involved and the control measures that should be utilized to limit exposures. The UNC-CH Nanotechnology Safety Policy proactively addresses the safety issues in the emerging field of nanotechnology and ensures that University employees performing nanotechnology research are aware of the potential hazards and risks involved and the control measures that should be utilized to limit exposures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have published a pamphlet on Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace. If you perform nanotechnology research please review and discuss with your principal investigator and colleagues. The pamphlet will inevitably generate additional questions regarding proper engineering controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) specific to the nanotechnology research your laboratory performs. The Department of Environment, Health & Safety has generated a Summary of Recommended Nanomaterial Risk Levels that will help when addressing these issues and performing a risk assessment on your specific research.

Several additional nanotechnology safety resources are also listed below. If you have further questions or would like a workplace nanotechnology safety evaluation please contact Chemical Safety at chemsafety[at]listserv.unc.edu.

Summary of Recommended Nanomaterial Risk Levels (NRL)
NRL Type of Nanomaterial Practices Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
1 Polymer matrix Standard Laboratory Practices including:
  • Lab Safety Plan should be updated with NRL defined
  • Labeling of storage containers of nanomaterials with both the chemical contents and the nanostructure form
Fume hood or biological safety cabinet (Class II Type A1, A2 vented via a thimble connection, B1 or B2) Standard PPE (lab coat, gloves, safety glasses with side shields)
2 Liquid dispersion NRL-1 practice plus:
  • Use secondary containment for containers that store nanomaterials
  • Wipe contaminated areas with wet disposable wipes
  • Dispose of contaminated cleaning materials as segregated nanomaterial waste
Fume hood or biological safety cabinet (Class II Type A1, A2 vented via a thimble connection, B1 or B2) or approved vented enclosure (e.g., Flow Sciences vented balance safety enclosure [VBSE]) NRL-1 practice plus:
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Safety goggles
3 Dry powders or aerosols NRL-2 practice plus:
  • Vacuum with HEPA-equipped hand vacuum cleaner
  • Label work areas with "Caution Hazardous Nanoscale Materials in Use"
Fume hood or biological safety cabinet (Class II Type A1, A2 vented via a thimble connection, B1 or B2) or approved vented enclosure (e.g., Flow Sciences vented balance safety enclosure [VBSE]). HEPA filtered exhaust preferred for fume hoods containing particularly "dusty" operations. NRL-2 practice plus:
  • N95 respirators are required if work operation must be done outside of containment
4 Dry Powders or aerosols of parent materials with known toxicity or hazards NRL-3 practice plus:
  • Baseline medical evaluation or employees including physical exam, pulmonary function test (PFT) and routine blood work.
  • Access to the facility should be permitted only to persons who are knowledgeable about the hazards of the material and the specific control measures implemented to avoid exposures and/or environmental releases. These control measures should include work practices (SOPs), engineering controls, spill and emergency procedures, personal protective equipment, disposal procedures, and decontamination/clean up procedures. Department procedures should address the designation and posting of the laboratory, how access will be controlled, and any required entry and exit protocols.
Fume hood or biological safety cabinet (Class II Type B1 or B2) or glove box or approved vented enclosure (e.g., Flow Sciences vented balance safety enclosure [VBSE]). HEPA filtered exhaust with Bag-In/Bag-Out capability preferred for hoods, BSCs, and gloveboxes. NRL-3 practice plus:
  • Need determined and respirator selected with reference to the engineering controls in use and potential for aerosol generation

Resources

Good Nano Guide
The GoodNanoGuide is a collaboration platform designed to enhance the ability of experts to exchange ideas on how best to handle nanomaterials in an occupational setting. It is meant to be an interactive forum that fills the need for up-to-date information about current good workplace practices, highlighting new practices as they develop.
ICON
The International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) provides an online "virtual journal" linking to abstracts and some articles on recent scientific findings related to the environmental health and safety benefits and risks of nanomaterials.
NIOSH Safety and Health Topic: Nanotechnology
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the leading federal agency conducting research and providing guidance on the occupational safety and health implications and applications of nanotechnology. The agency has released several guidance documents related to nanotechnology safety.
OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Nanotechnology
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation in the U.S. under the Department of Labor. The website provides safety and health information and specifies standards that are relevant to nanotechnology.
Nanotoolkit: Working Safely With Engineered Nanomaterials in Academic Research Settings
A document from the California Nanosafety Consortium of Higher Education that outlines best practices, standards and guidelines to using engineered nanomaterials in an academic research setting.