How to implement legislation?

In 2009 a SER-advice on “veilig omgaan met nanodeeltjes op de werkplek” (safe handling of nanomaterials at the workplace) was written. The advice focuses on safety and health of employees working with nanomaterials. The advice assumes that nanomaterials or nanoproducts with unknown or uncertain risks have to be regarded as (very) hazardous, as long as little is known of health effects related to the nanomaterials. This means that exposure to nanomaterials should be prevented or minimalized (precautionary principle).

Main focus: prevent exposure

Most attention is paid at present to workplace exposure via inhalation. Certain occupational activities deserve special interest due to possible inhalation during these activities. For instance, production of nanomaterials, processing of nanopowders and nebulization of fluids containing nanomaterials in particular require special attention for control of exposure to nanomaterials. Opportunities to control exposure exist in process engineering as well as in customized complementary control measures for use under specific circumstances.

Nano Reference Values (NRVs) and Occupational Exposure Limits

The SER-advice “veilig omgaan met nanodeeltjes op de werkplek” also recommended to ask the Dutch Health Council to prioritize the derivation of health limit values of a number of widely-used nanomaterials. However, The Dutch Health Council currently has insufficient scientific knowledge to establish health-based limit values. The lack of limit values in combination with the precautionary principle means that industries must do the most possible to prevent exposure to nanomaterials.

One alternative option is to use Nano Reference Values (NRVs) when information is absent. The NRVs can indicate to what level exposure should be restricted. However, these reference values are not based on health data and, therefore, contain no guarantee that health effects are avoided. Thus the NRV’s will expire as soon as health-based limit values are available for specific nanoparticles or for a group of comparable nanoparticles. HBR-OEL’s (Health-Based Recommended Occupational Exposure Limits) or DNEL’s (Derived No-Effect Levels) are health-based limit values, which are established in the framework of REACH.

A few models to support risk assessment and instructions to work safely with nanomaterials are developed already or under construction.