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NIOSH Publishes Science Blog Item on Nano- and Microplastics in the Workplace

On February 19, 2020, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) posted a Science Blog item entitled “Are There Nano- and Microplastics in the Workplace?” that reviews workplace exposure to microplastics (defined by NIOSH as “plastic particles smaller than 5 mm”) and nanoplastics (the nanoscale fraction of plastic particles).  NIOSH states that nano- and microplastic particles (NMPP) “can be formed through environmental and mechanical degradation (the top-down mechanism).  They can be also generated through condensation of molecular species, for example, during heating or burning of plastics (the bottom-up mechanism).”  NIOSH provides the following examples of inhalation exposure in the workplace:

  • Top-Down Mechanism:

    • During mechanical and environmental degradation of plastic goods, which can lead to potential exposures to nano- and microplastics among workers in the waste management and recycling operations;

    • Degradation of carpets and other synthetic fiber products that can produce airborne fibers considered NMPPs with potential for exposure among office/teleworkers and custodial staff;

    • Machining of polymer and plastic products generating dusts; and

  • Bottom-Up Mechanism:

    • During high-energy or high-heat processes (such as laser cutting or high-speed drilling), treatment of polymer composites, and during 3D printing from melting or fusing of plastics; and

    • Facilities hosting plastic processers and printers could expose workers to airborne NMPPs.

According to NIOSH, its Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) has developed approaches for exposure measurement, assessment and mitigation, and hazard characterization for nanomaterials, and many of these approaches would also be applicable to characterize and minimize risk of nano- and microplastics in the workplace.  NIOSH notes that presently there are no occupational exposure limits for nano- and microplastics.  In the absence of occupational exposure limits for nano- and microplastics, NIOSH states that workplace safety efforts should focus on minimizing potential exposure through appropriate engineering controls such as isolation cabinets, exhaust ventilation, and utilizing good industrial hygiene practices.

©2020 Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

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Lynn Bergeson, Campbell PC, Toxic Substances Control Act Attorney, federal insecticide lawyer, industrial biotechnology legal counsel, Food Drug Administration law
Managing Partner

Lynn L. Bergeson has earned an international reputation for her deep and expansive understanding of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), European Union Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), and especially how these regulatory programs pertain to nanotechnology, industrial biotechnology, synthetic biology, and other emerging transformative technologies. Her knowledge of and involvement in the policy process allows her to develop client-focused strategies whether...

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Carla Hutton, Bergeson Campbell PC, global regulatory attorney, public health activists lawyer, metals industry legal counsel, Toxic Substances Control Act law
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Since 1996, Carla Hutton has monitored, researched, and written about regulatory and legislative issues that may potentially affect Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) clients. She is responsible for creating a number of monthly and quarterly regulatory updates for B&C's clients, as well as other documents, such as chemical-specific global assessments of regulatory developments and trends. She authors memoranda for B&C clients on regulatory and legislative developments, providing information that is focused, timely and applicable to client initiatives. These tasks have proven invaluable to many clients, keeping them aware and abreast of developing issues so that they can respond in kind and prepare for the future of their business.

Ms. Hutton brings a wealth of experience and judgment to her work in federal, state, and international chemical regulatory and legislative issues, including green chemistry, nanotechnology, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Proposition 65, and the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) program.

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