Keywords: personal protective equipment, PPE, nanoparticles, occupational exposure, respiratory protection, protective clothing, nanotechnology, safety, nanomaterials manufacturing, health risks, risk management
Nanomaterials manufacture and use are in full expansion. With them comes an increasing risk for human health, especially at the workplace. Indeed, the early signs of potential toxicity associated with nanotechnologies are piling up. Even if they must be considered as a last resource in a traditional occupational Health & Safety approach, personal protective equipment (PPE) against nanoparticles need to be available right away, while the other more upstream risk management strategies are developed, assessed and put into action. However, the current picture of the situation relative to PPE against nanoparticles is rather worrying. For one part, there is an almost complete void worldwide in terms of regulations, standard testing methods and selection guides relative to PPE against nanoparticles. In addition, even if most claim that certified respirators should offer the needed level of protection against nanoparticles, large uncertainties remain, in particular in relation with the thermal rebound effect reported by some researchers for particles as large as 20 nm, as well as the high potential of inward leaks at interfaces. In terms of protective clothing and gloves, the subject is largely unexplored, maybe because of the common belief that skin is an impervious membrane and that protective clothing against chemical risks is efficient in case of exposure to nanoparticles. Yet, both assertions are questioned by recent findings, demonstrating the urgent need for more research in this area.