Safety Data Sheets Often Fail Workers Who Handle Nanomaterials, Union Official Says

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By Robert Iafolla  


Sept. 10 --Due in part to “woefully incomplete” safety data sheets, workers often do not have sufficient information about potential exposure to substances containing nanomaterials, a union official said at a government-sponsored nanotechnology conference Sept. 10.

Some companies do not list nanomaterials, fail to provide all cautionary information or only include occupational exposure limits for a substance in its standard--rather than nano-sized--form, said Darius Sivin, a health and safety specialist at the United Automobile Workers.

Sivin cited an analysis conducted by safety consultants at the Lippy Group LLP of 49 safety data sheets for nanomaterial-containing products. One-third did not list the nanomaterials, 52 percent did not have cautionary language and 62 percent used exposure limits for the substance in its standard size, Sivin said.

“Even where we theoretically have the right to know, we don't necessarily have the right information,” Sivin said.

Nanotechnology Initiative Conference

Sivin spoke at a conference organized by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a program that organizes the federal government's research and development of nanotechnology. Stakeholders from industry, labor, academia, government and non-governmental organizations gathered to discuss the assessment, management and communication of potential risks associated with use of nanomaterials.

Industry often fails to supply sufficient information about nanotechnology in consumer products, Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen said at the conference. For example, he pointed to a 2009 report showing that approximately 90 percent of the different nanoscale materials that are likely to be commercially available were not reported under a self-reporting program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Voluntary reporting doesn't work,” Hansen said. “Mandatory approaches are needed.”

Hazcom Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's hazard communication standard requires that companies or importers provide available information on hazardous chemicals that workers might handle. But Sivin said the new hazard communication rule, which was revised in 2012 to align with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, does not make it clear whether companies must indicate the presence of nanomaterials.

The standard does not treat nanomaterials as a distinct category of chemical. But it covers nanomaterial if it presents a hazard, as determined by the weight of available evidence.

Moreover, Sivin said the revised rule has an exemption for manufactured items that contain nanomaterials, even though there may be a risk of exposure if one of those items is subsequently modified. For example, a dashboard coated in nanoparticles may need to be ground or buffed before it fits into a fully assembled automobile, exposing workers to airborne nanomaterials, Sivin said.

Although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has established that carbon nanotubes and nanofibers are a respiratory hazard, there is an “extreme lack of data” about the potential hazards of other nanomaterials, Sivin said.

“Hopefully we'll have much more willingness to act on partial and incomplete knowledge,” he said. “In the absence of knowledge, we should protect people.”


To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Stimson

The EPA's 2009 report, “Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program,” is available at

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