The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released its draft research plan on April 24, 2018 entitled “Continuing to Protect the Nanotechnology Workforce: NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Plan for 2018-2025.” This draft research plan (noticed via 83 FR 17824) describes the nanomaterial-related risks associated with workplace exposure. It also outlines the plan established by the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) to understand and mitigate these risks with the ultimate goal of protecting the nanotechnology workforce. The research plan highlights the progress of NIOSH NTRC between 2003 and 2017, then describes planned research activities for the next several years and how progress will be measured.
NIOSH seeks to fill knowledge gaps addressing the five key goals of NIOSH NTRC first presented in its 2013 strategic plan, which are to:
- Increase understanding of the hazards and risks nanomaterial workers encounter in the workplace.
- Develop comprehensive understanding of hazards initially found to be associated with engineered nanomaterials.
- Support the creation of materials to inform nanomaterial workers, their employers, health professionals, regulatory agencies, and decision-makers about hazards and risks and how to manage them.
- Support epidemiologic studies for nanomaterial workers.
- Promote adherence with risk management guidance.
The NTRC receives critical input from customers, stakeholders, and national and international partnerships that informs the direction of NTRC research. The NTRC plans to continue developing these partnerships in order to:
- Better understand how engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are being produced and used.
- Develop recommendations for handling ENMs safely.
- Develop sampling and analytical methods.
- Evaluate exposure controls that are or could be used in ENM processes.
- Evaluate the need for and determine the effectiveness of PPE.
- Develop materials that communicate information and will assist industry in its efforts to communicate with workers and the public.
The ultimate goal of the NTRC is to protect the nanotechnology workforce by gathering information and providing guidance to relevant parties. Recognizing that knowledge gaps still exist regarding nanomaterial health and safety even while worker exposure to nanomaterials is occurring, the NTRC strives to conduct timely research to identify the associated hazards and risks. To do so, the NTRC plans to address knowledge gaps in each of the 5 steps in the risk management process through focused research in:
- Hazard Identification— Determines if there is reason to believe the substance could be harmful.
- Hazard Characterization— Determines how and under what conditions the substance could be harmful.
- Exposure Assessment—Determines whether there will be exposure in real-world conditions.
- Risk Characterization— Asks whether the substance is hazardous and whether there will be exposure.
- Risk Management—Develop procedures to minimize exposures.
To accomplish the goal of protecting the nanotechnology workforce, the NTRC outlines specific research activities for FY2018-2025 that will fill knowledge gaps as well as the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) priority research needs of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), with which NIOSH is a partnering agency. The corresponding strategic goals (SG) for these research activities are:
- SG 1 – Increase understanding of new hazards and related health risks to nanomaterial workers;
- SG 2 – Expand understanding of the initial hazard findings of engineered nanomaterials;
- SG 3 – Support the creation of guidance materials to inform nanomaterial workers, employers, health professionals, regulatory agencies, and decision-makers about hazards, risks, and risk management approaches;
- SG 4 – Support epidemiologic studies for nanomaterial workers, including medical, cross-sectional, prospective cohort, and exposure studies;
- SG 5 – Assess and promote national and international adherence with risk management guidance.
The NTRC uses the concepts of burden, need, and impact to guide research priorities. Based on these criteria, NTRC identifies three strategic priorities (SP), based on their perceived impact:
- SP 1 – Increase understanding of new hazards and related health risks to nanomaterial workers;
- SP 3 – Support the creation of guidance materials to inform nanomaterial workers, employers, health professionals, regulatory agencies, and decision-makers about hazards, risks, and risk management approaches;
- Priority Activity/Output Goal 3.1.3—Use a nanomaterial hazard banding classification scheme to group ENMs.
To monitor progress, NIOSH uses the NIOSH Project Planning & Management system (NPPM), which enables tracking of activities, outputs, and outcomes, such as: presentations, webinars, participation in international committees, publishing of peer-reviewed journal articles, or adoption of a NIOSH recommendation by a governmental agency.
The 5 strategic goals of the NIOSH NTRC draft research plan align with many of the 10 EHS goals of the NNI, including specific priority research needs identified by NNI that are being addressed by NIOSH projects, like exposure assessment and engineering controls.