The development of nanomaterials - defined as materials with basic structural units, grains, particles, fibres or other constituent components smaller than 100 nm in at least one dimension – is a particularly exciting area of science and industry. Nanotechnology promises to bring about new products that would have been impossible with macro-sized materials. Nanocomposites outperform standard fillers and reinforcements in raising heat resistance, dimensional stability, stiffness, flame retardancy and electrical conductivity. However, a lack of information exists about the risk posed by the nanoparticles to human health and the environment.

Surveys have indicated that nanotechnology industry workers have the potential to be exposed to NMs, and several studies have determined representative values of airborne NMs in the worker environment due to the ability of the NMs to be easily dispersed as a dust or an airborne spray or droplets, resulting in greater worker exposure. Presently, there are only a few number of published workplace air monitoring studies during production and down-stream use of NMs in the nanocomposites industry and there is no enough data of the potential for exposure resulting from activities related to these materials.

In the same way, there is no specific regulatory occupational exposure limits (OELs) established for NMs, and, in absence of OELs is difficult to be certain that applied control measures are controlling exposure, so at this stage the project will promote the enhancement of knowledge to establish specific threshold values for occupational exposure.

In terms of environmental exposure, the information is still scarce due to the complexity of quantifying environmentally relevant and bio-available concentrations. NMs are likely to end up in the environment compartments with many possible different exposure and interaction scenarios. In this sense, some of the key knowledge gaps and challenges result from the differences in aggregation chemistry and behaviour of NPs in different environmental matrices such as air, soils/sediments and water with resultant differences in toxicity.

Scientists agree that if engineering controls are well designed they will be effective in limiting NP exposure.  However engineering controls need to be supplemented by good work practices and the use of appropriate Personal protective equipment (PPE), which are especially relevant where other approaches such as elimination, substitution or modification of nanomaterials is not possible. In this case, the nondesign approaches are typically applied during subsequent stages in the product life cycle such as material processing, manufacturing or use.