The SCINDEEP project focuses on dermal exposure to nanoparticles from dust and smoke in the working atmosphere in the Norwegian metal alloy industry, for firefighters and chimney sweepers. These are professions outside the nanotechnology industry where people work in conditions where there is a risk of being exposed to nanoparticles, in this context often called ultrafine particles (UFP). Dermal exposure has received little attention in these occupations.
The main purpose of the SCINDEEP project is to ensure effective protection against harmful health effects of dermal exposure to UFP in these occupations. This will be done by addressing important aspects of risk assessment and risk management. The SCINDEEP project group is interdisciplinary with expertise from industrial process technology, occupational hygiene, occupational medicine, dermatology, pathology, chemistry and psychology. The results will benefit not only the industries included, but all businesses where employees handle nanomaterials. The project started in the spring of 2019.
The result of a literature study of measurement methods for ultrafine dust in the working atmosphere showed that there are few studies on exposure characterization of UFP in the smelting industry. NSMPS (NanoScan scanning mobility particle sizer) is the only instrument that has practical properties as well as a measurement spectrum and concentration spectrum suitable for this type of measurement. The method requires a thorough survey in advance, but will provide a good approximation of the relevant exposure (Rapport, Blom and Grove 2018).
Measurements of UFP in the working atmosphere at smelters has been conducted. We have made assessments of suitable equipment, comparison of sampling strategy as well as identifying personal exposure and sources of UFP. The investigations showed that the instrument NanoScan SMPS Nanoparticle Sizer combined with logbook keeping was best suited to measure personal exposure to UFP in such a work environment. The measurements showed that work near the molten metal was the work tasks with the highest UFP exposure. For some of the employees, the total exposure was above the recommended limit values (Master thesis Blom og Grove 2019, Jørgensen et al. Nanomaterials. 2020, 10 (12), 1-14).
We have also measured UFP in the air from fire smoke in connection with controlled training exercises at the fire service. The results show that large amounts of UFPs were measured throughout the course of the fire. There were large differences in particle emissions between different types of exercises. Amount of fuel and oxygen access seem to have a large impact on both concentration and size distribution of particles. Firefighting during smoke diving exercises is difficult to study due to the use of extinguishing water and there were a number of technical challenges with the measuring equipment. The research has been carried out as a master's thesis (Master's thesis Monstad 2021).
In 2022, studies were carried out among the Trondheim chimney sweepers where we both studied the sweepers' exposure to PAHs and UFP. These results are currently being published. We tested portable measuring equipment for UFPs for the first time. In order to investigate which particles land on the workers' skin during a working day, we have sampled tape samples from exposed skin areas. These have been analyzed using a Scanning Electron Microscope, and will be processed further together with the other skin tape test results.
We have collected blood- and urine samples to investigate the uptake of chemical substances from the dust particles and the participants have answered a questionnaire to characterize skin complaints. This has been done in all three industries plus a group of people who do not work in professions exposed to dust, for comparison. We've been delayed quite a bit due to restrictions and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now we are working as normal again. The samples that have been taken are now being analyzed and the first publication of data from the questionnaire and skin examinations is underway.
Fire constables and chimney sweepers have also participated in focus groups to talk about what they think about their own exposure to UFP at work. What emerged in these focus groups formed the basis for a questionnaire about how they perceive risk in their job, and this was distributed to firefighters, chimney sweepers and smelter employees. During the last two years, we have completed the data collection and analyzed the data material. We are now working on analyzing the answers that have come and will publish this in a scientific article.
Safety for persons working with nanomaterials has for many years been on the agenda for authorities, health workers and the nanotechnology companies. However, many persons outside the nanotechnology industry work under conditions where there is a risk of being exposed to nanosized particles, typically referred to as Ultrafine Particles (UFP). This project focuses on the Norwegian metal and mining industries and the firebrigade, which are industrial branches with known risks for UFP exposure from dust and fumes in the work atmosphere. In these industries, health- and safety focus has traditionally been directed towards respiratory protection. Dermal exposure has received little attention. The main objective for the proposed project SCINDEEP is to ensure effective protection against detrimental health consequences of dermal exposure to UFPs in these industries. This objective will be met by addressing key aspects of risk assessment and risk handling through 3 work packages: WP1 aims to quantify and characterize airborne UFP in the three industries, as well as characterization of particles attached to skin. WP2 seeks to assess the extent of dermal uptake of UFPs and associated toxic compounds and investigate the connection between exposure levels and dermal morbidity. WP3 will investigate how risk communication influence safety and behavior. In all three work packages, existing standardized methods will be combined with development of new methods. The project group is cross-scientific with expertise from the fields of industrial process technology, occupational hygiene and -medicine, dermatology, pathology, chemistry and psychology. The project will perform industrially relevant research, but at a fundamental level which cannot and will not be funded by any commercial actor. The results will benefit not only the included industries but all businesses where workers are handling nanomaterials .