The difficulties in establishing an occupational exposure limit for carbon nanotubes

M. Ellenbecker*, .S-J. Tsai, M. Jacobs, M. Riediker, T. Peters, S. Liou, A. Avila, Steffen Foss Hansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Concern over the health effects from the inhalation of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) has been building for some time, and adverse health effects found in animal studies include acute and chronic respiratory damage, cardiac inflammation, and cancer including mesothelioma, heretofore only associated with asbestos exposure. The strong animal evidence of toxicity requires that the occupational hygiene community develops strategies for reducing or eliminating worker exposures to CNTs; part of this strategy involves the setting of occupational exposure limits (OELs) for CNTs. A number of government agencies and private entities have established OELs for CNTs; some are mass-based, while others rely on number concentration. We review these various proposed standards and discuss the pros and cons of each approach. We recommend that specific action be taken, including intensified outreach to employers and employees concerning the potential adverse health effects from CNT inhalation, the development of more nuanced OELs that reflect the complex nature of CNT exposure, a broader discussion of these issues among all interested parties, and further research into important unanswered questions including optimum methods to evaluate CNT exposures. We conclude that current animal toxicity evidence suggests that strong action needs to be taken to minimize exposures to CNTs, and that any CNT OEL should be consistent with the need to minimize exposures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number131
JournalJournal of Nanoparticle Research
Issue number5
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Materials Science
  • Nanotechnology
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Characterization and Evaluation of Materials
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Optics, Lasers, Photonics, Optical Devices
  • Chemistry and Materials Science
  • Carbon nanotube
  • Occupational exposure limit
  • CNT
  • OEL
  • Environmental
  • Health and safety issues


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