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The Annals of Occupational Hygiene
Year: 2014  |  Volume: 58  |  Issue: 3  |  Page No.: 355 - 379

Exposure and Emission Measurements During Production, Purification, and Functionalization of Arc-Discharge-Produced Multi-walled Carbon Nanotubes

Maria Hedmer, Christina Isaxon, Patrik T. Nilsson, Linus Ludvigsson, Maria E. Messing, Johan Genberg, Vidar Skaug, Mats Bohgard, Hakan Tinnerberg and Joakim H. Pagels    

Abstract: Background: The production and use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) is rapidly growing. With increased production, there is potential that the number of occupational exposed workers will rapidly increase. Toxicological studies on rats have shown effects in the lungs, e.g. inflammation, granuloma formation, and fibrosis after repeated inhalation exposure to some forms of multi-walled CNTs (MWCNTs). Still, when it comes to health effects, it is unknown which dose metric is most relevant. Limited exposure data for CNTs exist today and no legally enforced occupational exposure limits are yet established. The aim of this work was to quantify the occupational exposures and emissions during arc discharge production, purification, and functionalization of MWCNTs. The CNT material handled typically had a mean length <5 μm. Since most of the collected airborne CNTs did not fulfil the World Health Organization fibre dimensions (79% of the counted CNT-containing particles) and since no microscopy-based method for counting of CNTs exists, we decided to count all particle that contained CNTs. To investigate correlations between the used exposure metrics, Pearson correlation coefficient was used.

Methods: Exposure measurements were performed at a small-scale producer of MWCNTs and respirable fractions of dust concentrations, elemental carbon (EC) concentrations, and number concentrations of CNT-containing particles were measured in the workers’ breathing zones with filter-based methods during work. Additionally, emission measurements near the source were carried out during different work tasks. Respirable dust was gravimetrically determined; EC was analysed with thermal-optical analysis and the number of CNT-containing particles was analysed with scanning electron microscopy.

Results: For the personal exposure measurements, respirable dust ranged between <73 and 93 μg m-3, EC ranged between <0.08 and 7.4 μg C m-3, and number concentration of CNT-containing particles ranged between 0.04 and 2.0cm-3. For the emission measurements, respirable dust ranged between <2800 and 6800 μg m-3, EC ranged between 0.05 and 550 μg C m-3, and number concentration of CNT-containing particles ranged between <0.20 and 11cm-3.

Conclusions: The highest exposure to CNTs occurred during production of CNTs. The highest emitted number concentration of CNT-containing particles occurred in the sieving, mechanical work-up, pouring, weighing, and packaging of CNT powder during the production stage. To be able to quantify exposures and emissions of CNTs, a selective and sensitive method is needed. Limitations with measuring EC and respirable dust are that these exposure metrics do not measure CNTs specifically. Only filter-based methods with electron microscopy analysis are, to date, selective and sensitive enough. This study showed that counting of CNT-containing particles is the method that fulfils those criteria and is therefore the method recommended for future quantification of CNT exposures. However, CNTs could be highly toxic not only because of their length but also because they could contain, for example transition metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or have surface defects. Lack of standardized counting criteria for CNTs to be applied at the electron microscopy analysis is a limiting factor, which makes it difficult to compare exposure data from different studies.

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