EU-OSHA has created a useful e-fact sheet that describes and compares a number of tools that can be used by employers, together with workers, to manage the risks of nanomaterials in the workplace. The sheet also provides details of recommended prevention measures.
Nanomaterials are materials containing particles with one or more dimension between 1 and 100 nm, a scale comparable to atoms and molecules. They may be natural, such as from volcano ashes, or an unintended consequence of human activities, such as those contained in diesel exhaust fumes. However, a large number of nanomaterials are intentionally manufactured and placed on the market, and it is these that the e-fact sheet focuses on.
Nanomaterials have specific properties – as a result mainly of their small size and large surface area, but also of their shape, chemical nature, surface functionalisation and surface treatment – that present many benefits for numerous applications. However, because of these characteristics nanomaterials may also have a wide range of potentially toxic effects, even if the same materials at macro scale do not.
The most important effects of nanomaterials have been found in the lungs and include inflammation, tissue damage, oxidative stress, chronic toxicity, cytotoxicity, fibrosis and tumour generation. Some nanomaterials may also affect the cardiovascular system.
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