Management of nanomaterials safety in research environment
Despite numerous discussions, workshops, reviews and reports about responsible development of nanotechnology, information describing health and environmental risk of engineered nanoparticles or nanomaterials is severely lacking and thus insufficient for completing rigorous risk assessment on their use. However, since preliminary scientific evaluations indicate that there are reasonable suspicions that activities involving nanomaterials might have damaging effects on human health; the precautionary principle must be applied. Public and private institutions as well as industries have the duty to adopt preventive and protective measures proportionate to the risk intensity and the desired level of protection. In this work, we present a practical, 'user-friendly' procedure for a university-wide safety and health management of nanomaterials, developed as a multi-stakeholder effort (government, accident insurance, researchers and experts for occupational safety and health). The process starts using a schematic decision tree that allows classifying the nano laboratory into three hazard classes similar to a control banding approach (from Nano 3 - highest hazard to Nano1 - lowest hazard). Classifying laboratories into risk classes would require considering actual or potential exposure to the nanomaterial as well as statistical data on health effects of exposure. Due to the fact that these data (as well as exposure limits for each individual material) are not available, risk classes could not be determined. For each hazard level we then provide a list of required risk mitigation measures (technical, organizational and personal). The target 'users' of this safety and health methodology are researchers and safety officers. They can rapidly access the precautionary hazard class of their activities and the corresponding adequate safety and health measures. We succeed in convincing scientist dealing with nano-activities that adequate safety measures and management are promoting innovation and discoveries by ensuring them a safe environment even in the case of very novel products. The proposed measures are not considered as constraints but as a support to their research. This methodology is being implemented at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in over 100 research labs dealing with nanomaterials. It is our opinion that it would be useful to other research and academia institutions as well.