Office of Research

Special Precautions for Work with Nanomaterials

Nanomaterials are defined by the ASTM as a material with two or three dimensions between 1 to 100 nm. They can be composed of many different base materials (carbon, silicon, and metals such as gold, cadmium, and selenium). They can also have different shapes: such as nanotubes, nanowires, crystalline structures such as quantum dots, and fullerenes. Nanomaterials often exhibit very different properties from their respective bulk materials: greater strength, conductivity, and fluorescence, among other properties.

The toxicity of most nanomaterials is currently unknown. Preliminary toxicity testing has indicated that some nanoparticles may be more toxic than the corresponding micron sized particle because of their greater surface area and reactivity. Nano-sized titanium dioxide produces 40 fold more lung inflammation than micron-sized particles. In preliminary tests, carbon nanotubes have produced lung inflammation and fibrosis similar to crystalline quartz and asbestos. Nanoparticles are similar in size to viruses and are easily taken up by the body’s cells, translocate around the body, and can possibly pass into the brain and through the skin.

The CU RS office considers nanoparticles that have the potential for release into the air to be handled as particularly hazardous substance because their toxicity is, for the most part, unknown and early studies have been suggestive of toxic effects. In the future, many types of nanoparticles may turn out to be of limited toxicity but precaution should be used until more is known. Work with nanoparticles that may release particles should be conducted in nanoenclosures (contact the Chemical Hygiene Officer at 650-8155 for assistance in selecting the proper enclosure).  All work should be done with gloves, at a minimum disposable nitrile gloves. If you are working with nanomaterials, review the and follow the precautions outlined in the CU Nanomaterials Manual found on our website: