NIOSH's Geraci Describes New Model for Nanomaterials Science, Previews Agency Research

By Kay Bechtold

As nanomaterials quickly make their way into many commercial sectors, it’s up to industrial hygienists to ensure this technology moves forward safely and responsibly, Chuck Geraci, PhD, CIH, said during NIOSH’s annual nanotechnology update at AIHce 2014 in San Antonio. Geraci, coordinator of the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center, outlined current challenges and changes related to nanotechnology and provided a sneak peek at upcoming work at NIOSH.

Geraci gave attendees a glimpse of the future of nanomaterials science by describing what he’s already seeing at nanotechnology research centers across the country: the convergence of disciplines, knowledge, and technologies. He described how disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and toxicology are no longer isolated, and how knowledge now transfers between these areas rapidly and seamlessly.

“The boundaries between all of these technologies are rapidly disappearing, if not completely eroded, by the fact that we are now in the digital age,” he said.

Nanotechnology research is being driven by “today’s Millennial technology team,” Geraci said, describing a group of generally younger individuals who are embracing what he called the “new phase” of materials science.

“They’ve got two objectives: create new scientific knowledge [and] make the next greatest thing that’s going to help benefit society and benefit the consumer,” he said.

Geraci challenged industrial hygienists to think differently to keep pace with these changes in nanomaterials science, stating that as stewards of health and safety, IHs and safety professionals need to be able to operate across disciplines.

In addition to current agency efforts, such as research related to cellulosic nanomaterials, the use of control banding for nanomaterials, and the development of engineering controls strategies, Geraci shared several “coming attractions” from NIOSH.

According to Geraci, NIOSH has undertaken a study of gloves and chemical protective garments for penetration of engineered nanomaterials, and is moving into the second phase of a study of respiratory protection effectiveness for engineered nanoparticles. The agency is also continuing work on the dustiness of nanomaterials and is extending and combining that with work NIOSH is doing on the explosibility and flammability of engineered nanomaterials.

Geraci concluded the roundtable with a call to engage or re-engage IH and safety professionals in the research community in efforts related to working safely with engineered nanomaterials.

“NIOSH continues to get a lot of questions and opportunities to work with academic research centers” and others on the key differences of working with engineered nanomaterials that perhaps the research community has not yet considered, Geraci said. “Let’s not forget the laboratories.”

Kay Bechtold is assistant editor for The Synergist.