by James Montgomery, news editor
October 1, 2010 - Another key theme that wove throughout the "Destination Nano" conference at UMass-Lowell (Sept. 22-23) was finding ways to analyze health and safety impacts with nanotechnology, ultimately to inform companies and researchers to better protect themselves and better know what results from nanotech in various applications and products.
|Destination Nano series:|
|Driving research into sensors, devices|
|Saluting nanotech's defense apps|
Chuck Geraci from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) summarized much of their work in nanotechnology research and ESH -- currently he oversees around 50 projects with nearly $10M in funding. Key research results involving nanotoxicology show nanoparticles of various ilk linked to a host of nasty problems: cardiovascular, lung fibrosis, brain inflammation, interference with cell division (more on that later), and invasion of the "intrapleural space" -- which is where mesothelioma is found.
While supporting research into nanotech's possible harmful effects, NIOSH also seeks to lay out and help implement safer ways to go about nanotech research and manufacturing. And judging by some of Geraci's slides and stories about NIOSH field investigations, there's no lack of need for such services. The slides below, taken from inside a "boutique maker" of single-walled carbon nanotubes, show a gloved hand scraping the inside of a bowlful of SWNTs resembling sooty cobwebs with what appears to be a kitchen spatula. Another slide showed a pile of charcoal-like chunks of unrefined multiwalled nanotubes, sitting on a metal tray in open air -- one of 200 such trays at the site, Geraci noted. sing NIOSH's "Nanotechnology Emission Assessment Technique" (NEAT), suggested 1200-19,000 particles/cm3 -- levels that would make "a Class 100 cleanroom manager fall over" but can be acceptable for some operations. One site adapted a welding fume collector for its furnaces and "significantly reduced" worker exposure, he noted. Geraci also acknowledged that HEPA filters are "very good at capturing nano-sized particles," thanks to diffusion patterns.
Risk characterization is a big deal at NIOSH as well. The group has a new draft about the limits of ultrafine TiO2 (0.2mg/m3), beyond which are elevated risks of inflammation and tumors. A soon-to-be-released report is coming on the current state of CNTs, he said.
Northeastern's Jackie Isaacs listed various US government agencies and what they're doing for nanotech, e.g. EPA, FDA, CDSA, and of course the CDC/NIOSH. Some had very little info at all, surprisingly. For this talk's purpose, a question was, what is the end-of-life for a carbon nanotube switch (NAND flash replacement) in cell phones? Assume the phones either get reused, or end up in landfills or strategically incinerated -- facilities for the latter almost certainly have no filters capable of capturing CNTs, she pointed out, so it's feasible that 6-50g of CNTs would end up in landfills nationwide. (Note above, NIOSH's determination that 0.2mg of TiO2 is the risk threshold.) Isaacs also discussed cost-modeling, e.g. for SWNT HiPco production, of ~$450/g up to $650/g.
A highlight of the Destination Nano sessions was former US house member and current UMass-Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, announcing a partnership between the CHN and NIOSH to jointly address evaluate potential exposure to nanomaterials and recommend solutions for small- and medium-sized companies and research labs. NIOSH also will publish best practices from UMass Lowell prof. Michael Ellenbecker and CHN's EHS manager Candace Tsai. Meehan also noted that UMass-Lowell will host the biennial International Symposium on Nanotechnology, Occupational and Environmental Health, to be in Boston Aug. 9-12 2011. (They're now accepting abstracts, if you want to get involved.)
"Without strong partnerships in academia and the private sector, it would be very difficult to achieve our primary mission of protecting worker and human health by providing good risk management guidance to the nanomaterials industry," according to NIOSH's Geraci, in a prepared statement. "Our partnership with the CHN strengthens those links and our history of working with UMass Lowell offers distinct advantages."