Characterization of exposure to carbon nanotubes in an industrial setting

While production and use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) is increasing, workers exposure to CNTs is expected to increase as well, with inhalation being potentially the main pathway for uptake. However, there have been few studies reporting results about workers' personal exposure to CNTs. In this study, worker exposure to single-walled CNTs (SWCNTs) during the production of conductive films in a modern up-scaling factory was assessed. Particulate matter concentrations (2.5–10 μm) and concentrations of CO and CO2 were monitored by using real-time instruments. Workers' exposure levels to SWCNTs were qualitatively estimated by analyzing particle samples by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). TEM samples identified high aspect ratio (length/width > 500) SWCNTs in workplace air. SWCNT concentrations estimated from micrographs varied during normal operation, reactor use without local exhaust ventilation (LEV), and cleaning between 1.7×10−3, 5.6 and 6.0×10−3 SWCNT cm−3, respectively. However, during cleaning it was unclear whether the SWCNTs originated from the cleaning itself or from other reactor openings. We were unable to quantify the SWCNT emissions with online particle instrumentation due to the SWCNT low concentrations compared to background particle concentrations, which were on average 2.6±1.1×103cm−3. However, CO concentrations were verified as a good indicator of fugitive emissions of SWCNTs. During normal operation, exposure levels were well below proposed limit values (1.0×10−2 fibers cm−3 and 1 µg m−3) when LEV was used. Based on the results in this study, the analysis of TEM grids seems to be the only direct method to detect SWCNTs in workplace air.

Source: Fonseca AS, Viitanen A, Koivisto AJ, et al. Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 2014.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/annhyg/meu110

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