The Dangers of Nanotechnology Research: Choosing the Right Gear

Self-cleaning windows…lighter, stronger car parts… tattoos that can monitor a diabetic’s blood glucose levels. All of these inventions are now possible due to new techniques in the field of nanotechnology.

But if you’re working in a nanotechnology lab, are you putting yourself in danger? The answer is unclear. Understanding the safety hazards of nanoparticles can help you keep yourself safe in the lab.

Nanotechnology Basics

The prefix “nano” comes from the Greek root meaning “dwarf.” One nanometer is a billionth of a meter – about 80,000 times less than the thickness of a human hair. Nanotechnology makes use of nano-sized materials, usually between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter, to produce substances with specific properties that typical materials just can’t compete with.

But nanotechnology is such a new field that some fear it may put workers in danger. After all, the fact that larger particles cannot pass through a given set of protective gloves does not mean that the same thing applies to nanoparticles. And nanoparticles may not be as innocent as they sound when it comes to worker safety.

Nanoparticle Research – Dangerous?

If nanoparticles touch the skin or are inhaled, they may pose a health hazard to workers. Although research on the topic is still in development, it seems that nanoparticles can enter the respiratory tract or the skin and make their way to the bloodstream, which may carry the nanoparticles to various organs.

Nanoparticles in the bloodstream could cross the blood-brain barrier, according to the American Chemical Society (ACS). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that some nanoparticles can have a catalytic effect, in ways that we can’t necessarily predict. They also cite animal studies suggesting that nanoparticles can cause pulmonary inflammation or lung tumors if inhaled.

What the Research Says

Although protective gloves can guard the hand against coming into contact with most chemicals, nanoparticles are so tiny that they may be able to slip through the glove and onto the wearer’s skin.

So what type of protective gloves should be used when dealing with nanoparticles? Because this field is still so new, the guidelines are still in flux, but research does seem to show that the type of glove can make a difference in protecting workers from nanoparticles.

In 2014, researchers in Montreal tested several different types of gloves – nitrile gloves at NBR-100, nitrile gloves at NBR-200, latex gloves, and non-disposable butyl rubber gloves – to determine which protected the wearer’s hands against titanium dioxide nanoparticles dissolved in water. Both the thin nitrile glove and the thick butyl glove failed to block the nanoparticles, whereas the thick nitrile and latex gloves successfully blocked a higher percentage of the nanoparticles.

The study also pointed out that pinholes in the gloves may allow the nanoparticles to penetrate, regardless of the type of glove being tested. All thin-modulus gloves contain pinholes, with the FDA listing minimum pinhole requirements for medical gloves (1.5 AQL) and non-medical gloves (2.5 AQL). Because these pinholes can reduce the effectiveness of the gloves against nanoparticles, workers should replace the gloves often – especially when using a colloidal solution.

Guidelines for Nanoparticle Safety

So what should you do in order to keep yourself safe when working with nanoparticles? Ideally, the selection of all personal protective equipment (PPE) should evolve from a Risk Assessment. Here are some loose guidelines to keep in mind:

  • While no glove is foolproof, when working with nanoparticles you should err on the side of caution by choosing a medical-grade glove that passes FDA biocompatibility guidelines and passes ASTM permeability testing, such as the Cobalt nitrile glove.
  • Your gloves should cover both your hands and wrists completely, and should overlap the sleeves of your lab coat or bunnysuit.
  • Consider double gloving in order to minimize the likelihood of nanoparticles coming into contact with your skin due to pinholes in the gloves.
  • If you are in a situation where nanoparticles may enter the air, use a respirator to ensure that they cannot enter your lungs.

Are You Serious? The Top 4 Reasons PCOs Don't Wear Safety Gear

Pest control techs are notorious for not using personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, hardhats, safety glasses, bunnysuits, or respirators.

If you’re guilty of walking into “the line of fire” unprotected, you can come clean … many pest control professionals have done the same. But whether you're a technician, a supervisor, or the boss, there's no excuse for not using PPE when you face real hazards at work. PPE protects you from numerous dangers that you could face throughout a normal day of work.

Still, there are lots of bad reasons for not wearing PPE. Here are some of our favorites:

Excuse #1

"A respirator? Give me a break. I've been doing this work for years and I haven't gotten sick yet. It's just bureaucrats and lawyers exaggerating the risk. "

Well... no. There's no exaggeration. The requirement to wear a respirator is based on hard science: toxicology, chemistry, and medicine. If safety rules or a pesticide label mandate a respirator, not wearing one could damage your health and you wouldn’t even recognize it until it's too late.

Excuse #2   

"I didn't know I needed gloves (or safety glasses, or a respirator) for that."

It's part of a tech's job to recognize potential hazards and to stay protected from them, including wearing PPE. Read those precautionary statements on the label – you might be surprised at what you find there. For example, did you know that rodenticide labels often require that you wear long-sleeve shirts, socks, long pants, and waterproof gloves, and that you wash the gloves before taking them off?

Excuse #3

"It's really uncomfortable doing pest control work wearing this gear."

You hear this excuse the most when working in hot, confined, or dusty worksites such as attics and crawlspaces. But uncomfortable sites are typically the ones where you most need PPE. Attics and crawlspaces can have protruding nails, irritating insulation fibers, airborne insecticide dust, allergens, pathogens, and spores from bat, bird, or other animal droppings. And pesticides in hot sites are more likely to evaporate and become airborne, increasing your risk of inhalation. You might need the whole package—gloves, respirator, eye protection, hardhat, and a bunnysuit—for these worksites.     

Excuse #4

"Come on, this stuff looks stupid. And it scares the hell out of my customers."

Wearing PPE makes you look more professional, not stupid. Customers like seeing that you’re taking safety precautions, because it means you know how to keep them safe.

Here’s what customers need to know. The real risk of exposure to pesticides occurs during the application. There is actually very little risk afterwards.  All pesticides on the market have passed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determination that they can be applied in homes or other sites without posing harm to the people and pets who reside there.

While these are all creative (and common) excuses, at the end of the day, none of them are worth risking your health. So be smart, and commit to a culture of safety—one that is practiced every day.


Research is Dangerous

When you were considering your job options, you looked into becoming a firefighter, a police officer in the inner city, and an operator of heavy machinery. Too dangerous, you decided. So that’s why you decided to go into laboratory research.

Unfortunately, if you were looking for a safe career, you made the wrong choice.

As an experienced researcher, you know by now that working in a lab exposes you to caustic chemicals, carcinogens, and other hazardous compounds. Luckily, you can lower your risk of harm by wearing the right protective gear in the lab, and by treating the gear appropriately.

Protective Gloves

Quick quiz: Which part of your body is most susceptible to harm while working with chemicals and other hazardous substances?

That’s right – your hands!

Since your hands are constantly working in the laboratory, they’re more likely to come into contact with toxic substances. Here are several points to bear in mind:

  • Wearing the correct gloves can go a long way towards protecting your hands from burns, dermatitis, erythema, and the absorption of toxins.
  • If you are performing research on primates or rodents, the gloves you select should protect you from anything a lab animal might do. Gloves with a higher thickness will shield you from blood and other secretions, while cut-resistant gloves provide protection from biting and clawing.
  • Never reuse disposable gloves, even after washing them.
  • Double gloving may be warranted if you’re dealing with extremely dangerous materials.
  • Change gloves as soon as you suspect contamination, and wash your hands after removing them and before leaving the laboratory.

Lab Coats and Bunny Suits

As a researcher, you should also wear some sort of protection over your personal clothing while working. While some researchers prefer lab coats, which can be removed quickly in case of a chemical spill, bunny suits will cover your legs as well, giving you full-body protection.

A common mistake when it comes to lab coats and bunny suits is leaving them on when exiting the lab. Some researchers wear these types of gear into outer areas, including offices, meeting rooms, and even cafeterias! Since lab coats and bunny suits are intended to keep dangerous substances away from your body, wearing them in public areas is asking for cross-contamination.

Eye and Face Protection

In the laboratory, splashes or sprays from infectious or other hazardous substances can cause lasting harm to your face and eyes. That’s why it’s so important to invest in eye and face protection, such as goggles, a mask, a face shield, or other splash guard materials. Like other protective gear, make sure to decontaminate the splash guards before reusing them, or throw them away between uses if they’re disposable.

Think you’re off the hook when it comes to eye protection because you’re wearing contact lenses? Unfortunately, contacts do not sufficiently protect the eye. Use goggles or another splash guard to protect your eyes from damage.


The type of shoe that you’re wearing wouldn’t seem to be a factor in how safely you’re outfitting, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Wearing sandals or even sneakers can be dangerous in the case of biological or chemical spills. Your options: invest in an expensive pair of safety shoes that can protect against these dangers, or buy polyethylene shoe covers that prevent water-based liquids from penetrating to your shoe or foot.

No matter what type of laboratory you work in, keep yourself safe! Make sure you’re wearing high-quality, up-to-date protection before embarking on your research. It just isn’t worth the risk not to.

The Top 10 Common “Dirty Jobs” in the US: Are You on the List?

 Roadkill collector…volcanic ash mud bath mixer…owl vomit collector… if you watched Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, you’ve seen Mike Rowe tackle them all. But you don’t need to go after rare and unusual jobs in order to find grunge and caustic substances. After all, many common careers require you to roll up your sleeves and don some protective gloves before diving in.

You may not be a maggot farmer, but do you have one of the top 10 dirty jobs in the US? Take a look at where your job falls on the “grossness factor” scale:

 10. Furniture Refinishers. This job sounds simple enough, but if you’re experienced at refinishing furniture, you’ll know that dissolving the surface layers of the finish can create a goopy substance that gets everywhere. Then there are the harsh chemicals that you use on a regular basis, which can eat through regular latex gloves. And if you don’t protect your hands and arms, they’ll be covered in small chemical burns before the job is done.


9. Tattoo Artists. Many people wonder why many tattoo artists wear black gloves. As a tattoo artist, you know that the gloves themselves protect you from hundreds of potential blood-borne diseases, but the black color is to cover up the mess of the job. Gloves covered with ink stains and blood wouldn’t make most clients want to come again, would they?


8. Food Handlers. There’s nothing quite as disgusting as plunging your hands into a bowl full of raw ground beef. If you’re a food handler, working with a restaurant, caterer, or food producer, you might handle anything from sloppy sauces to uncooked snails. Getting your hands dirty is all in a day’s work. These are the kind of gloves you'll need to stay safe.


7. Painters. You’ll get splattered from head to toe with paint, of course, but there’s more to the mess of the job than that. Your job involves working with solvents and isocyanates, chemicals that can irritate or burn the skin. You’ll also get covered in dust from sanding paint, which can contain heavy metals, such as lead or cadmium. Yuck!


6. Mechanics. As the stereotypical mechanic, you emerge from under a car, dripping with motor oil and covered in grease. Not only is working as a mechanic a filthy profession, you also come into contact with asbestos and other carcinogenic substances. That’s why you should make sure to use protective gear before diving under the hood.


5. Plumbers. When you think of a plumber as being a dirty job, you probably imagine exploding toilets and leaking waste lines. But don’t forget about the fact that at the end of a working day you’ll be covered in toxic glue from sealing PVC pipe, greasy pipe oil, and cobwebs from wriggling through tiny crawlspaces.


4. Janitors. Janitorial staff can run into two main sources of filth during the course of their job: the stuff they need to clean up, and the stuff they use to clean it. School janitors encounter everything from vomit to toileting accidents, and from science experiments gone wrong to remnants of lunch in the cafeteria. Janitorial staff in a hospital or medical center may need to dispose of blood-soaked bandages, needles, and once again, vomit. And all janitors come into contact with caustic chemicals, such as hydrofluoric acid, nitrilotriacetate and phosphoric acid, while cleaning floors, sinks, toilets, and all other surfaces.


3. Medical Professionals. Whether you’re an EMT, surgeon, or nurse, you’ll be getting your hands dirty with blood, mucous, and other bodily fluids. Nothing like changing bedpans and stripping afterbirth-soaked sheets to make your job the third dirtiest in America. For this, you'll need medical-grade gloves to protect yourself.


2. Oil Drillers. Imagine being covered in oil from head to toe, pulling heavy and dangerous pieces of machinery back and forth while mud and petroleum are sloshing out of them. Don’t have to imagine it? Then you must work in the oil drilling industry. One of the filthiest common occupations available in the US today, oil drillers wear full-body protection from both dangerous machinery and oceans of crud.


1. Farmers. You win the hands-down prize for the dirtiest common job in America. After all, you risk getting pooped on every time you milk a cow. Honestly, dealing with poop is a regular part of your job. And then there’s the fact that you’re willing to stick your hand inside of an animal to help it birth. Can it get more gross than that?

Hand Health: Preventing Hand Dermatitis When Using Gloves

This week's blog post was kindly provided by Robert N. Phalen, Ph.D. and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH).

Dermatitis is no fun.

I should know because I have dealt with it personally. Twice.

The first time was when I worked in the automotive industry and I noticed my fingernails were getting pitted and thinner. It turned out that one of the solvents or oils we worked with was damaging my cuticles and I was told that I had developed contact dermatitis. The solution…I wore washable cotton gloves, avoided skin contact with all chemicals, and the problem went away.

The second time was in a laboratory working with pesticides. I was responsibly wearing disposable nitrile gloves and I washed my hands regularly to make sure they were clean and free of any pesticides. But despite my efforts, my fingers were often cracked, bleeding and covered with Band-Aids.

Causes of My Dermatitis

My hands were not healthy. One issue was that the gloves trapped moisture and kept my hands moist, which can soften and damage the skin. Another was that I was washing my hands too much, which can remove protective oils and layers of skin.

But the key issue was that I was not removing or handling my contaminated gloves properly. I would sometimes touch the outside of the glove when I removed them, which would transfer the pesticide to my fingers. I also realized that I would use a pen with gloved hands and then use that same pen without gloves. The dermatitis was the most severe in those fingers that held the contaminated pen.

Needless to say, I was motivated to fix the problems and keep my hands healthy.

Thankfully, I was able to figure out these issues. Working with dermatitis was painful: it affected my productivity, and it affected my interactions with others as well. The Band-Aids especially made me feel self-conscious about shaking other people’s hands and I often felt uncomfortable in public. I even had someone accuse me of infecting him with my disease, which further convinced me that others saw me differently.

Preventing Dermatitis

Fortunately, there are solutions to help avoid these types of issues.

Essentially, hand health is important, regardless of whether you are using gloves to protect your hands from chemicals or to protect a product from contamination. Dermatitis (a type of skin inflammation with several possible causes) is a leading occupational disease that can affect anyone working with chemicals or using rubber or plastic gloves. You are more at risk of dermatitis when the skin is constantly wet or damaged, which can affect the natural barrier properties of the skin.

Here are some simple ways to protect your skin and keep your hands healthy.

  1. Use lotion. If you use rubber or plastic gloves a lot or if your hands get wet often, then it would be good to also use a lotion designed to promote healing of the skin. These lotions or ointments can be found at almost any drugstore. Most brands that are backed by clinical trials contain petrolatum, oat, or dimethicone. If you find your hands get dry, crack or inflamed easily, then try using a lotion that sooths your skin. You can apply the lotion before bed, in the morning, and after work, as needed.
  2. Keep your gloved hands dry. If you use gloves around water, then make sure you are not submerging your hands to where the water gets trapped inside the glove. If your hands are constantly wet, then this is when the skin can become softened and easily damaged. Use a glove with a longer cuff or use a special tool to retrieve items from the water.
  3. Do not leave gloves on for prolonged periods of time. Remove the glove when you no longer need it for protection. Leaving gloves on will soften the skin and make it susceptible to damage. Also, leaving a contaminated glove on increases the risk of exposure to the chemical. The chemical has more time to penetrate the glove and the soft and moist skin underneath could even enhance skin absorption and your exposure.
  4. Be careful when removing gloves. Do not touch the outer surface with bare hands. There is a standard technique used for bloodborne pathogens that should also be used when working with chemicals. You can view videos on YouTube that explain proper disposable glove removal. The general steps are: 

    Step 1: With both hands gloved, pinch the outer wrist region on one glove and start to peel the glove towards the fingers, turning the glove inside out. Only touch the outer surface of the glove.
    Step 2: Pull the first glove completely off the hand, but still keep it pinched in the gloved hand. 
    Step 3: Ball the removed glove into the palm of the remaining gloved hand.
    Step 4: Slide two ungloved fingers inside the inner cuff of the remaining gloved hand, being careful not to touch the outer glove surface.
    Step 5: Peel the second glove off in a similar manner to the first, turning it inside out and trapping any contaminated surfaces inside.
    Step 6: Properly discard the gloves in a receptacle.
    Step 7: Properly wash and dry your hands, as needed.

  5. Be careful what you touch with gloves. Be aware of the things you touch and use when you are wearing gloves and make sure that you do not handle those same items without gloves. 
  6. Avoid reusing disposable gloves. The likelihood of contaminating your skin is high with disposable gloves.
  7. Wash reusable gloves. If you are using thicker, chemically-resistant gloves that will be re-used, then you may wish to wash and decontaminate them before taking them off. This will reduce your exposure the next time you don the gloves. Some organizations will decontaminate the gloves after each use, in a special washing system (much like a dish washer).

Hopefully, these tips can help you avoid the pain, discomfort and embarrassment of dermatitis. My last advice is that if you are experiencing skin irritation and pain, then it is best to seek professional help from a dermatologist.