Particulate Hazardous Substances

The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA) is contributing to national and international efforts to protect employees’ safety and health when particulate hazardous substances are handled in the workplace.

REM-Aufnahme: Stehendes-MWCNT-Agglomerat
© BAuA

Particulate hazardous substances are substances, mixtures, or articles that occur in the form of small particles. Once they have been stirred up, such small particles can stay suspended for a long time in the air as dust and may be inhaled in certain situations. Inhaled particulate hazardous substances can therefore pose a danger to human health. Inhalable dust can contain particles so tiny that they are able to penetrate into the highly sensitive tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The proportion of alveolar (respirable) dust contained in many kinds of dust therefore has to be identified in addition to the proportion that is inhalable.

Sources of particulate dusts

There may be a range of reasons for the release of particulate dusts, which can be composed of various substances and have various morphological ("morphological”: relating to the shape of a particle) characteristics. For example, Mineral, sooty, or metallic dusts or wood dust may be released in workplaces. Depending on the work process and the protective measures that are in place, employees can experience widely differing levels of exposure. Large releases of dust may occur, for example, in industrial sectors such as mining, construction, metalworking (e.g. during welding), chemicals, and wood processing. But people can also be exposed to dust containing particulate hazardous substances outside the workplace, for example through high concentrations of fine particles from road traffic, combustion processes (heating, fireworks, forest fires), or when renovating their homes.

Health consequences of dust exposure

The body responds to the inhalation of dust with the defensive and cleaning mechanisms of its mucous membranes and alveolar cells. Many of the particles that enter the upper respiratory tract can simply be coughed out with lung mucous and removed from the body. By contrast, particles that penetrate deep into the lung must be proactively ingested and removed by phagocytes. Irrespective of the chemical composition of the inhaled particles,  excessive exposure to dust can therefore overwhelm the lungs’ self-cleaning systems, particularly in the case of prolonged exposure. This can lead to respiratory problems and allergic reactions. Some kinds of particle remain in the lung tissues for a very long time because of either their composition (e.g. silica dust) or their morphology (e.g. fibrous asbestos). These "inert dusts” ("inert”: chemically inactive) cannot be degradedby the human body. As a result, chronic diseases such as silicosis or asbestosis may develop, sometimes leading to very serious diseases such as asbestos-related lung cancer.

Fibre pathogenicity paradigm

In addition to the general hazard of dusts, the chemical composition of soluble dusts and, particularly in the case of inert dusts, the morphology of the particles influence how dangerous they are. For instance, there are aerodynamic reasons why fibrous dust particles are able to penetrate far deeper into the lung than comparably heavy granular ("granular”: granule-shaped particles, with spherical rather than elongated shapes) particles. The pulmonary phagocytes are therefore confronted with unfavorably bulky shaped particles. Because fibrous dusts are insoluble and remain in lung tissue for a long time (i.e. are biopersistent), they can have effects that are many times more harmful than those of granular dusts. Asbestos is the best-known example of a material with toxic effects due to the shape of its fibres. The hazard of fibrous dusts is explained by the "fibre pathogenicity paradigm”, according to which the elongated shape of respirable and biopersistent particles is the cause of their carcinogenicity.

Nanomaterials

The differentiated assessment of possible risks connected with individual particle sizes and/or shapes has been extended into the nanometre ("nanometre”: one thousand-millionth of a metre) range at BAuA. The nanoparticles and nanofibres that have been developed over the last two decades as the nanotechnology revolution has progressed are some of the smallest objects produced by industrial processes. When they are released as dust made up of either individual fibres or as small, low-density, agglomerated clumps, there is a high probability that they will penetrate into the sensitive alveoli when inhaled. This is why it is important to isolate such materials’ possible toxic effects at an early stage and reliably determine the types and volumes of particles and fibres released in the workplace, in spite of their small size. BAuA is playing an active, committed role in the development of suitable measurement methodologies and assessment criteria.

Innovative materials

On account of their multiplicity, the advanced materials that are being developed are referred to generically as "innovative materials”. There is a need to investigate what hitherto unsuspected health implications they could have. It is, for example, to be clarified whether composites that contain nanofibres and anisotropic ("anisotropic”: having physical and/or chemical properties that differ when measured in different directions) materials might release respirable, biopersistent, fibrous fragments when they are processed and recycled or suffer mechanical failure, as has been observed during the processing of carbon fibre-reinforced materials and other products.

All these "innovative materials” pose specific health risks, which can be inferred from the toxicological profiles of the substances in which they are present and employees’ levels of exposure to those substances.

Statutory protection against particulate hazardous substances

Several acts, ordinances, and bodies of rules/regulations have been adopted with the aim of protecting human health against excessive exposure to particulate hazardous substances. The handling of hazardous substances in the workplace is governed by a number of pieces of legislation (e.g. the Hazardous Substances Ordinance (Gefahrstoffverordnung)), and sub-legislative rules and regulations (e.g. technical rules). Limit values for permissible exposures in the workplace have consequently been set for a range of substances. The order in which protective measures are to be implemented has been stipulated for work areas that exceed these limit values with the STOP principle. This requires the Substitution (replacement) of hazardous substances first, then Technical and Organisational protective measures, and lastly the provision of Personal protective equipment.

BAuA is tasked with conducting research that prepares the way for the adoption of scientifically based rules and regulations on protection against particulate hazardous substances in the workplace. This is done by developing detection methods and measurement procedures with which particulate materials can be quantified and characterised. The standardisation of new methods and the amendment of rules and regulations are supported by BAuA’s contributions to the deliberations of diverse expert bodies. All these activities are helping to further reduce the risks faced when particulate hazardous substances are handled.

Research Projects

Project numberF2566 StatusOngoing Project Design and implementation of a database on chemical-morphological characteristics of toxicologically relevant fibre aerosols

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2556 StatusCompleted Project Development of a method for the preparation or enrichment of fibrous materials suitable for toxicological testing (PANTox)

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Research completed

Project numberF 2530 StatusOngoing Project Contribution of BAuA to the EU-Project POLYRISK: Understanding exposure and toxicity of Micro- and Nano-Plastic contaminants in humans

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2524 StatusOngoing Project Sampling and counting rules for the characterization of airborne NOAA in the workplace by scanning and transmission electron microscopy

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2469 StatusCompleted Project Monte Carlo simulations of image generating stray processes in SEM measurements of fibres

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Research completed

Project numberF 2468 StatusOngoing Project Development of image evaluation methods for the detection and classification of particulate and fibrous hazardous substances using methods of machine learning

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2512 StatusOngoing Project NanoHarmony - Towards harmonised test methods for nanomaterials - BAuA contribution

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2479 StatusCompleted Project Development of correlative microscopic methods for the identification of dust particles (EMMI)

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Research completed

Project numberF 2476 StatusCompleted Project Prerequisites and mechanisms of release of respirable fibrous carbon fiber fragments (CarboBreak)

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Research completed

Project numberF 2480 StatusCompleted Project Innovative Materials and New Production Processes: Safety in the Life Cycle and Industrial Value Creation

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Research completed

Project numberF 2477 StatusOngoing Project Implementation of risk governance: meeting the needs of nanotechnology

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2445 StatusCompleted Project Exposure assessment of nanoscale fibrous materials in the workplace based on a new measurement and evaluation process

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Research completed

Project numberF 2365 StatusCompleted Project Development of an enforceable test method for determination of the rigidity of respirable biopersistent fibres

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Research completed

Project numberF 2268 StatusCompleted Project Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) Code of Practice for Handling of Nanomaterials in Laboratories, a Contribution to the Third-Party Funded Project "NanoValid" of Nordmiljö AB (Sweden) in the EU 7th Framework Programme

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Research completed

Project numberF 2273 StatusCompleted Project Memorandum for application of the EU precautionary principle to nanomaterials at the workplace

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Research completed

Project numberF 2428 StatusCompleted Project BAuA contribution towards a development of a specific OECD Guideline to determine the particle size and number size distribution of nanomaterials

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Research completed

Project numberF 2429 StatusCompleted Project Investigations on the Detectability of possible Emissions of Carbon Nanofibres in Exhaust Gases from Combustion Processes

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Research completed

Project numberF 2325 StatusCompleted Project Testing methods for nanomaterials in the regulatory framework of chemical safety - BAuA contribution to "Regulatory testing of nanomaterials (NanoReg)" in the 7th EU framework program for research

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Research completed

Project numberF 2269 StatusCompleted Project NanoGEM, Nanostructured Materials - Health, Exposition, and Characteristics of the Material

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Research completed

Project numberF 2133 StatusCompleted Project Dispersion and retention of ultrafine and nanoparticles in the lungs

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Research completed

Project numberF 2248 StatusCompleted Project Novel Concepts, Methods, and Technologies for the Production of Portable, Easy-to-use Devices for the Measurement and Analysis of Airborne Engineered Nanoparticles in Workplace Air (NanoDevice)

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Research completed

Project numberF 2157 StatusCompleted Project Exposure measurement of engineered Nanomaterials at selected workplaces

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Research completed

Project numberF 2376 StatusOngoing Project Mode of toxic action of nanocarbons

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2332 StatusCompleted Project BAuA contribution to the project "nanoGRAVUR": nanostructured materials - grouping approaches for workers, consumer and environmental protection and risk mitigation

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Research completed

Project numberF 2284 StatusCompleted Project Safety, Health, and Quality for Handling Carbon Nano Tubes (CNT) - CarboSafe 2 (Contributions of BAuA to a BMBF-funded project managed by Bayer Technology Services GmbH, Leverkusen)

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Research completed

Project numberF 1946 StatusCompleted Project Safety, health and quality during handling with CNT (CarbonNanoTubes) - CarboSafe

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Research completed

Project numberF 2380 StatusCompleted Project Dustiness and particle morphology of nano carbon materials

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Research completed

Project numberF 2272 StatusCompleted Project Development of a software tool to determine the number concentration for agglomerates and primary particles from nanomaterials at the workplace

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Research completed

Project numberF 2217 StatusCompleted Project Optimation of the personal thermal precipitators for the measurement from nanoparticles at the workplace

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Research completed

Project numberF 2271 StatusCompleted Project German company survey on the safe use of nanomaterials at the workplace

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Research completed

Project numberF 2337 StatusCompleted Project Personal monitoring of exposure from handling of manufactured nanomaterials at workplace - BAuA contribution to the project NanoIndEx in 7th EU framework program on research

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Research completed

Project numberF 2261 StatusCompleted Project Characterization of substances in nanoscale as a basis for their assessment under Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (REACH)

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Project numberF 2246 StatusCompleted Project Toxic effects of different modifications of a nanoparticle after inhalation

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Research completed

Project numberF 2375 StatusCompleted Project NanoCarbon - ELSE: Occupational safety aspects during manufacture and use of high-cycle fatigue performance resins for energy storage applications

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Research completed

Project numberF 2043 StatusCompleted Project Assessment of sensitivity and specifity of in vitro-methods for detection of chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity of nanomaterials and fine dust in context of regulatory toxicology (literature survey)

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Research completed

Project numberF 2565 StatusOngoing Project Advanced Characterisation Methodologies to assess and predict the Health and Environmental Risks of Advanced Materials

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Research ongoing

Publications

Search results

Development of handling energy factors for use of dustiness data in exposure assessment modelling

Article 2024

Several exposure assessment models use dustiness as an input parameter for scaling or estimating exposure during powder …

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Use of the dustiness index in combination with the handling energy factor for exposure modelling of nanomaterials

Article 2024

The use of modelling tools in the occupational hygiene community has increased in the last years to comply with the different …

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A roadmap to strengthen standardisation efforts in risk governance of nanotechnology

Article 2023

A roadmap was developed to strengthen standardisation activities for risk governance of nanotechnology. Its baseline is the …

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Investigation of the Tendency of Carbon Fibers to Disintegrate into Respirable Fiber-Shaped Fragments

Article 2023

Recent reports of the release of large numbers of respirable and critically long fiber-shaped fragments from mesophase …

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Nanomaterials and REACH

Article 2023

The complete article "Nanomaterials and REACH" is a chapter of the book "Particle technology and textiles. Review of …

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Exposures of respirable fibers at workplaces with diameters below the WHO count limit of 200 nm

Article 2022

The complete article can be purchased at the website of the Journal "Gefahrstoffe - Reinhaltung der Luft", Volume 82, Issue 3-4, …

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Prioritising nano- and microparticles: identification of physicochemical properties relevant for toxicity to Raphidocelis subcapitata and Daphnia magna

Article 2022

Background: Advanced/innovative materials are an undefined group of nano- and micro-particles encompassing diverse material …

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Safe industrial production: controlling manufacturing process to ensure the protection of workers and reduce exposure through reduction in release of hazardous nanomaterials to the workplace and the outdoor environment

Article 2022

The complete article "Safe industrial production: controlling manufacturing process to ensure the protection of workers and …

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Towards Safe and Sustainable Advanced (Nano)materials: A proposal for an Early WArning, pRioritisation and actioN system (EWARN)

Cooperation 2022

This brochure of the proposed EWARN system can be regarded as a thought starter, developed by RIVM National Institute for Public …

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Development of a specific OECD Test Guideline on Particle Size and Particle Size Distribution of Nanomaterials

Cooperation 2021

In this research project, a new OECD Test Guideline (TG) for the determination of "Particle Size and Particle Size Distributions …

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