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Posted: May 20, 2008

Corporate nanotechnology survey in Germany explores exposure to nanomaterials

(Nanowerk News) Results of a corporate survey by the Federal Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (BAuA) and the Association of the Chemical Industry (VCI) in Germany have been published on BAuA's website: Exposure to nanomaterials in Germany (pdf download, 237 KB).
Starting points for the joint questionnaire campaign were the stakeholder dialog events on September 26, 2005 at VCI in Frankfurt and on October 11-12, 2005 at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) in Bonn. Public authorities and industry saw a need for information regarding the manufacture and handling of nanomaterials at the workplace. For this reason, BAuA and VCI agreed to jointly gather relevant data, using a questionnaire format for this purpose.
The questionnaire was sent to a total of 656 companies. With a return rate of 33% the questionnaire gives a first overview of activities involving nanomaterials in Germany. This makes the questionnaire useful and informative, and it should be continued within a defined timeframe. Reasons for non answers or the partly incomplete filling out of questionnaires are not known, because questionnaires were anonymized so that no relevant queries could be addressed directly to the respondents. Here, queries over the telephone or the internet would be useful, as this is already done in other surveys.
Out of 217 participating companies, activities involving nanomaterials are carried out by only 21%. The unexpectedly low number of companies, who perform activities involving nanomaterials, can be attributed to the given definition and to the starting criterion in the questionnaire. Therefore, a further developed version of the questionnaire should be brought in an even more detailed form. For example, inter alia the starting criterion for activities involving nanomaterials needs to be lowered to < 10 kg/year, and activities involving suspensions should be included, too.
The number of workers in the production and in other activities involving nanomaterials is not very high (71% - 1 to 9 workers). In particular, the middle range (50 to 249 workers) is lacking in the implemented survey. Most companies (51%) handle nanomaterials in volumes of < 100 kg/year. Only 7% of companies handle nanomaterials in volumes of over 1000 tons/year.
31% of companies carry out regular or largely exploratory exposure measurements. Most companies, who do not carry out measurements, handle nanomaterials in volumes of < 100 kg/year.
For 85% of nanomaterials, their primary particle sizes are known (maximum D50 is from 20 to < 50 nm). However, for ca. 80% of products, their particle size distributions and particle number concentrations at the workplace are not known in relevant activities – the underlying reason is a work and cost-intensive measuring technology that still needs to be validated. Here, BAuA sees considerable need for action, in order to support especially SMEs and start-ups in exploratory exposure measurements at the workplace in activities involving nanomaterials.
It is still too early to make a general assessment of amounts of exposure at workplaces with activities involving nanomaterials, based on the results of the questionnaire.
In 93% of cases (products), protection measures (process and ventilation-technological measures and personal protective measures) are taken in activities involving nanomaterials; the questionnaire gives a first relevant overview.
By starting the questionnaire campaign, a first step was taken in Germany to gain an overview of the production, use and handling of synthetic nanomaterials. Building on these findings, now focal areas and need for action can be identified with suitable activities to follow, inter alia in orientational measurements in SMEs and by recommending protection measures.
Source: BAuA