Occupational exposure limits for manufactured nanomaterials, a systematic review

Background: The toxicological properties of manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs) can be different from their bulk-material and uncertainty remains about the adverse health effects they may have on humans. Proposals for OELs have been put forward which can be useful for risk management and workers’ protection. We performed a systematic review of proposals for OELs for MNMs to better understand the extent of such proposals, as well as their derivation methods.

Methods: We searched PubMed and Embase with an extensive search string and also assessed the references in the included studies. Two authors extracted the data independently.

Results: We identified 20 studies that proposed in total 56 OEL values. Of these, two proposed a generic level for all MNMs, 14 proposed a generic OEL for a category of MNMs and 40 proposed an OEL for a specific nanomaterial. For specific fibers, four studies proposed a similar value but for carbon nanotubes (CNTs) the values differed with a factor ranging from 30 to 50 and for metals with a factor from 100 to 300. The studies did not provide explanations for this variation. We found that exposure to MNMs measured at selected workplaces may exceed even the highest proposed OEL. This indicates that the application and use of OELs may be useful for exposure reduction.

Conclusion: OELs can provide a valuable reference point for exposure reduction measures in workplaces. There is a need for more and better supported OELs based on a more systematic approach to OEL derivation.