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Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs) are defined as: 

  • Discrete materials having structures with at least one dimension between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm).
  • Intentionally created, as opposed to those that are naturally or incidentally formed.

Engineered Nanomaterials do not include:

  • Larger materials that may have nanoscale features, for example etched silicon wafers. 
  • Biomolecules (proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates),
  • Materials with occupational exposure limits (OELs) that address nanosized particles for that substance.

Nanoparticles are a type of engineered nanomaterials that:

  • Are not bound to a surface or weakly bound to a surface and therefore are or may become dispersible
  • Have two or three dimensions between 1 and 100 nm.

Exposures to engineered nanomaterials may occur through inhalation, dermal contact, or ingestion. Because of their tiny size, engineered nanomaterials can penetrate deep into the lungs and may translocate to other organs following pathways not demonstrated in studies with larger particles.

The nanoparticulate forms of some materials show unusually high reactivity, especially for fire, explosion, and in catalytic reactions. Depending on their composition and structure, some engineered nanomaterials may initiate catalytic reactions that would not otherwise be anticipated from their chemical composition.

In general, laboratory personnel should treat all new compounds, including engineered nanomaterials of unknown toxicity, as though they could be acutely toxic in the short run and chronically toxic over time. Engineered nanomaterials whose hazards have been studied should be managed in a manner consistent with the observed risks.

Control Measures

Training and Information

Engineering Controls

  • Conduct work that could generate engineered nanomaterials in gloveboxes, glove bags, laboratory fume hoods, or other negative-pressure or isolation enclosures.  If a process (or subset of a process) cannot be enclosed, then use other engineered systems to control fugitive emissions of engineered nanomaterials or hazardous precursors that might be released.  For example, use a local exhaust system like a “snorkel hood.”
    • With regard to gloves worn in glove boxes:  Consider using an inner pair of different colored gloves to detect small tears in glovebox gloves and/or wearing an outer pair of gloves to prevent degradation of glovebox gloves.  Refer to the Personal Protective Equipment Section for selecting chemically resistant gloves.
  • Avoid exhausting effluent air reasonably suspected to contain engineered nanomaterials whose hazards are not well understood.  Whenever practical, filter it or otherwise clean (scrub) it before release. High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filtration appears to effectively remove engineered nanomaterials from air.
  • Do not use horizontal laminar-flow hoods (“clean benches”) that direct a flow of air into the laboratory to control exposure to engineered nanomaterials.
  • Consider exhausting Type II biological safety cabinets, in which free engineered nanomaterials are handled, directly to the exterior (hard-ducted) or through a thimble connection over the cabinet’s exhaust.
  • Evaluate laboratory equipment and exhaust systems for contamination before removing, remodeling, or repairing them.

Administrative Controls


  • Insofar as practicable, maintain all working surfaces (i.e., benches, glassware, apparatus, exhaust hoods, support equipment, etc.) free of engineered nanomaterial contamination. Some engineered nanomaterials fluoresce under ultraviolet light, which can be useful in locating areas of contamination.

    • Designated Areas:  Conduct all work involving free unbound ENMs in designated areas. Requirements may be found in the section entitled “Designated Areas.”
    • Clean up dry engineered nanomaterials, using:
      • A dedicated HEPA vacuum-tested and certified by EH&S
      • Wet wiping
      • Other methods that do not involve dry sweeping or the use of compressed air.
    • Dispose of used cleaning materials and wastes as hazardous waste (see below).
  • Clean up dry engineered nanomaterials, using:
    • A dedicated HEPA vacuum-tested and certified by EH&S
    • Wet wiping
    • Other methods that do not involve dry sweeping or the use of compressed air.
  • Dispose of used cleaning materials and wastes as hazardous waste (see below).

Chemical Inventory

  • Enter all containers of commercially obtained engineered nanomaterials into the Chemical Management System (CMS).  The CMS has a check box for engineered nanomaterials to allow easier identification of storage and use locations.  Ensure this is checked when entering the material into the inventory.  

Marking, Labeling, and Signage

  • Post signs indicating hazards, minimum personal protective equipment requirements, and administrative control requirements at entry points into areas where engineered nanomaterials are handled. The section entitled: Posting Area Entrances has specific posting requirements and instructions.
  • Designated areas shall be posted and controlled as described above.
  • flag image Consult the section entitled: Labels, for labeling requirements for primary and secondary containers. flag image Label containers to plainly indicate that the contents are in engineered nanoparticulate form, e.g., “nanoscale zinc oxide particles” or other identifier, rather than just “zinc oxide.”
  • There may be practical limitations to carrying out these labeling requirements to small containers such as sample vials and tubes.  Alternatives such as numbering or coding are permissible provided that the material’s identity and hazards are readily accessible (e.g., by means of a lab notebook, a spreadsheet, or some other equivalent means).
  • When engineered nanomaterials are being moved outside the work area, also include label text that indicates that the particulates may be unusually reactive and are potentially more toxic, quantitatively and qualitatively, than normal-scale forms of the same material.


flag image Consult the section entitled Storage Guidelines for hazardous materials storage requirements, recommendations and information on chemical incompatibility.  Additional requirements are provided below.

Personal Protective Equipment

Skin and eye contact shall be prevented.  Wear PPE appropriate to the hazard, as identified through the Job Hazard Analysis process.   Obtain a hazard assessment from an EH&S Industrial Hygienist to determine the selection and use of PPE.  PPE required for a wet-chemistry laboratory, which is often appropriate for handling engineered nanomaterials, includes:

  • Laboratory coats
  • Eye protection, e.g., safety glasses with side shields, face shields, chemical splash goggle, or other safety eyewear appropriate to the type and level of hazard.  NOTE: Face shields or safety glasses alone do not provide sufficient protection against unbound, dry materials that could become airborne. 
  • Closed-toe shoes made of a low- permeability material.
  • Protective gloves
    • Store gloves in a clean area outside of fume hoods and away from equipment that could potentially contaminate them.
    • Wear polymer (e.g., nitrile rubber) gloves when handling engineered nanomaterials and particulates in liquids. Choose gloves only after considering the resistance of the glove to the chemical attack both by the engineered nanomaterial and, if suspended or dissolved in liquid, the liquid. Consult the glove selection guides in the Personal Protective Equipment Section.  Disposable gloves may be appropriate
    • Change gloves often to minimize potential exposure hazards.  Alternatively, double-glove.
    • For glove box gloves: Consider using an inner pair of different colored gloves to detect small tears in glovebox gloves and/or wearing an outer pair of gloves to prevent degradation of glovebox gloves.
    • Wash hands and forearms after wearing gloves.

Keep potentially contaminated clothing and PPE in the laboratory or change out area to prevent engineered nanomaterials from being transported into common areas.  Use disposable lab coats if feasible, and discard of them as hazardous waste (see below) when they become unusable. If cloth lab coats are used, do not send them to a laundry unless the laundry (such as the LBNL contract lab coat provider) has specifically agreed to handle engineered nanomaterial-contaminated clothing.

Engineered Nanomaterial-Bearing Waste Streams

Consider any material that has come into contact with dispersible engineered nanomaterials (and that has not been decontaminated) as belonging to an engineered nanomaterial-bearing waste stream.  This includes gloves, other PPE, wipes, blotters and other disposable laboratory materials used during research activities.

Do not put material from engineered nanomaterial-bearing waste streams into the regular trash or down the drain. 

Collect engineered nanomaterial-bearing waste in a plastic bag or other sealing container. Until the container is sealed, keep it in the laboratory hood. This bag must remain sealed unless adding waste to it. It should be managed as hazardous waste, including completing the Hazardous Waste label when accumulation begins, and placing it in an identified Satellite Accumulation Area. The identity of the waste must be given on the label. For example, “Wipes contaminated with trace levels of carbon nanotubes” provides an appropriate level of description. When the bag is full, close it, take it out of the hood and place it into a second plastic bag or other sealing container in a Satellite Accumulation Area.

Characterize and manage engineered nanomaterial-bearing waste streams per the requirements of the LBNL hazardous waste program. Be sure to consider the properties of all components, for example, solvents in which the engineered nanomaterials may be dissolved or suspended.

Emergency Procedures and Spills

Refer to the section entitled “Emergency Procedures and Equipment” for LBNL policy and response procedures for chemical spills. Spills containing engineered nanomaterials are generally handled in a manner similar to spills of other potentially hazardous materials, with the following additional requirements:

  • Clean the spilled material using wet wiping methods.  Characterize, collect, and dispose of spill cleanup materials as engineered nanomaterial-bearing waste.
  • Only HEPA vacuums that have been tested and certified by EH&S may be used to vacuum nanomaterials. Do not dry-sweep or use compressed air.
  • Consider using a walk off mat such as a clean room mat or “sticky mat” at access/egress points to reduce the likelihood of spreading nanoparticles.  These are available through McMaster – Carr via the Lab’s Procurement web site.


Last updated: 08/31/2010