IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

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Assessment of Methods of Sampling and Characterizing Engineered Nanomaterials in the Air and on Surfaces in the Workplace

Assessment of Methods of Sampling and Characterizing Engineered Nanomaterials in the Air and on Surfaces in the Workplace

The exceptional properties of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are driving rapid growth in the field of nanotechnologies. Despite a lack of traceability, it is estimated that more than 1,800 products containing ENMs are now commercially available. The industrial application of products and processes developed in the laboratory has led to a dramatic increase in the volume of ENMs handled and in the number of people possibly exposed to them. Animal studies demonstrate that ENMs show higher toxicity than an equivalent mass of their bulk counterparts, but monitoring of airborne ENM contamination levels is a complex process. The simultaneous presence of particles of nanometric size that are not ENMs, and the diversity of the parameters to be measured (e.g., mass, number of particles, size, particle-size distribution, chemical composition, particle surface area and morphology) are important challenges.

This research explored a number of technical options for improving nanoparticles (NP) measurement in the workplace and provided an opportunity to test them in the field.

Since an exhaustive presentation of NP types, their behaviour, related health and safety risks and risk management methods was recently provided in Nanomaterials – A Guide to Good Practices Facilitating Risk Management in the Workplace, 2nd Edition, only a summary recap of the problems posed by these compounds is given in this report. The recap is followed by a review of NP sampling and characterization methods.

The researchers proposed a strategy for more accurate assessment of ENM exposure using methods that require a minimum of preanalytical handling. The recommended strategy is a systematic two-step assessment of workplaces that produce and use ENMs.

Improvements to the sampling and analysis methods provide a better understanding of ENM exposure and help in adapting and implementing control measures that can minimize occupational exposure.