NIOSH Recommends Controls to Reduce Metal Exposures at Nanoparticle R&D Company
A recent NIOSH report describes the results of the agency’s evaluation of employees’ exposure to beryllium and other metals at a nanotechnology research and development company. The company had used a metal alloy for several months without knowing it contained trace amounts of beryllium. The alloy’s safety data sheet (SDS) did not list beryllium as a component, but the company later learned from its supplier that the alloy contained beryllium. For mixtures and composites, OSHA does not require that components of less than 1 percent (0.1 percent if a carcinogen) be listed on an SDS.
According to NIOSH’s report, the company discontinued the use of the alloy because it lacked an appropriate beryllium control program and hired a contractor to investigate the potential for beryllium exposure. Though the contractor determined that the potential for beryllium exposure was low, employees at the company remained concerned about exposure to beryllium and other metals.
During NIOSH’s visit to the facility, agency staff evaluated both production and nonproduction areas; collected surface wipe samples to check for the presence of beryllium and other metals; took air samples to analyze for metals and their particle-size characteristics; interviewed current and former employees regarding their health and possible work-related health conditions; and tested several employees for beryllium sensitization. 
The agency’s surface wipe samples indicated the presence of several metals in both production and nonproduction areas. Those samples contained chromium, nickel, cobalt, titanium, iron, cadmium, and beryllium. The air samples showed no detectable beryllium, but contained “very small” amounts of chromium, iron, nickel, and titanium. None of the workers tested were sensitized to beryllium.
According to NIOSH, the results of the surface wipe samples showed that the company’s “current practices were insufficient in preventing inadvertent metal transfer from production to non-production areas.” The agency’s report recommends that the company evaluate the use of sticky mats, disposable booties, or shoe-change stations at production-area exits to help reduce the amount of metal that moves into nonproduction areas. NIOSH also recommends training employees on how to prevent the transfer of metals from production to nonproduction areas, and ensuring that employees follow standard operating procedures for personal protective equipment, including gloves, a respirator, and a laboratory coat. To assess whether operating procedures and engineering controls are adequately controlling exposures, NIOSH recommends periodic, full-shift exposure monitoring for metals when working with nano materials.
NIOSH’s full report is available as a PDF on the agency’s website. The report was authored by investigators with NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program, which investigates workplaces that request assistance in learning whether workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions on the job. The program was recently featured on the new SynergistNOW blog. The blog post discusses the program’s recent accomplishments and previews its plans for the upcoming year.