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

Characterization and control of occupational exposure to nanoparticles and ultrafine particles


Many workers are exposed to a range of particles present on a nanometric scale. In occupational hygiene, it is common to differentiate manufactured nanoparticles (NP) from ultrafine particles (UFP) coming from natural, human or industrial sources. Given that major deficiencies exist in the usual risk assessment approaches for these particles, the objective of this research was to assess occupational UFP and NP exposures. The secondary objective was comprehensive testing of the assessment capabilities regarding occupational NP and UFP exposures in an industrial and laboratory context. Two main types of assessment were performed during this research. The first concerns the assessment of the fine and ultrafine particle concentrations with a particle counter (P-Trak, model 8525), and the second pertains to the assessment of fine and ultrafine particle size distribution with an electrical low pressure impactor (ELPI). The measurements were taken in two welding schools, an aluminium smelter, the research centre of a thermoplastics processing company, and three university laboratories producing and/or using nanoparticles.

The results revealed that aluminium smelter workers, people who perform welding tasks, and workers in the thermoplastic processing industry are exposed to UFPs. However, the assessments performed under this study do not reveal high NP concentrations in research laboratories. Only NP production by milling generated detectable NP concentrations. NP handling in glove boxes of two other laboratories seems to prevent worker exposure adequately.

There is currently no consensus concerning UFP and NP exposure evaluation measures. However, our findings suggest that the P-Trak is suitable for occupational assessment of UFP concentrations, whereas several uncertainties remain to assess NP exposure, particularly in their agglomerated form. In view of this research, it appears that a characterization and control study of occupational NP and UFP exposure should include assessment of the mass and particle number concentrations, measurement of granulometric distribution and electron microscopic characterization of nanoscale particles.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Maximilien Debia
  • Charles Beaudry
  • Scott Weichenthal
  • Robert Tardif
  • André Dufresne
Research Project: 0099-7890
Online since: September 26, 2012
Format: Text