Exposure Assessment Approaches for Engineered Nanomaterials


Address correspondence to Linda C. Abbott, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis, Room 4032, South Building, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-3811, USA; tel: 202-720-8022; fax: 202-720-1815; labbott@oce.usda.gov.


Products based on nanotechnology are rapidly emerging in the marketplace, sometimes with little notice to consumers of their nanotechnology pedigree. This wide variety of nanotechnology products will result (in some cases) in unintentional human exposure to purposely engineered nanoscale materials via the dermal, inhalation, ingestion, and ocular pathways. Occupational, consumer, and environmental exposure to the nanomaterials should be characterized during the entire product lifecycle—manufacture, use, and disposal. Monitoring the fate and transport of engineered nanomaterials is complicated by the lack of detection techniques and the lack of a defined set of standardized metrics to be consistently measured. New exposure metrics may be required for engineered nanomaterials, but progress is possible by building on existing tools. An exposure metric matrix could organize existing data by relating likely exposure pathways (dermal, inhalation, ocular, ingestion) with existing measurements of important characteristics of nanoscale materials (particle number, mass, size distribution, charge). Nanomaterial characteristics not commonly measured, but shown to initiate a biological response during toxicity testing, signal a need for further research, such as the pressing need to develop monitoring devices capable of measuring those aspects of engineered nanomaterials that result in biological responses in humans. Modeling the behavior of nanoparticles may require new types of exposure models that individually track particles through the environment while keeping track of the particle shape, surface area, and other surface characteristics as the nanoparticles are transformed or become reactive. Lifecycle analysis could also be used to develop conceptual models of exposure from engineered nanomaterials.