An updated safety management tool for nanomaterials in labs


Researchers at the Adolphe Merkle Institute and colleagues have presented a revised safety management system for nanomaterials in laboratories in response to identified gaps in hazard assessment.

Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are becoming more widely used in research and industry, in sectors such as food technology, medicine, medical devices, composite materials, and textiles. In 2016 alone, the European Commission estimated that the nanomaterial sector produced 11 million tons of goods, with the market expected to almost double over the following five years. As a result, more and more researchers and workers are exposed to ENMs in their workplace and a comprehensive and easy-to-use tool for risk assessment is required for a safe handling of nanomaterials  in laboratories. 

To protect the workers in this fast-moving field, the AMI BioNanomaterials co-chairs Professors Alke Fink and Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser and colleagues at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, have updated their risk assessment tool for working with nanomaterials.

After the implementation of the classification tool in 2016, tests with collaborators revealed that some material classes were difficult to classify. New data was also considered to update the questions used for assessments. This third iteration of the risk assessment tool is aimed at overcoming the gap between current regulations and new developments in nanomaterials. Assessments of nanomaterial processes are both slow and tedious because they are performed on a material-by-material basis. Safety data sheets are also rarely available for nanomaterials, and often lack nano-specific information. Exposure estimations or measurements are difficult to perform and require sophisticated and expensive equipment and personal expertise.

Nanosafe III is designed with  a new three-step process.  The first of those steps is to determine the hazard level of the nanomaterial using a decision tree, assigning the material to one of three categories based on known or expected effects on human health. The second step evaluates work exposure and assigns procedures into one of three “nano-levels” based upon the evaluation, recommended occupational exposure limits, and additional safety factors. The final step, based on the previous two, is the implementation of updated technical, organizational, and personal protective measures to allow nanomaterial processes to be established in research environments.

 “We are presenting a comprehensive and easy-to-use tool for risk assessment when working with engineered nanomaterials,” say Fink and Rothen-Rutishauser. “The tool is destined for laboratory research and is particularly helpful for new collaborators, when planning new research and setting up an ENM laboratory.”

Reference: Buitrago, E.; Novello, A.M.; Fink, A.; Riediker, M.; Rothen-Rutishauser, B.; Meyer, T. NanoSafe III: A User Friendly Safety Management System for Nanomaterials in Laboratories and Small Facilities. Nanomaterials2021, 11, 2768. (open access)