Quick access:

Vous êtes ici :

  1. Home
  2. Our activities
  3. Key projects
  4. Nano focus (selected section)

Nano focus

An increasing number of workers are concerned by exposure to nanomaterials

According to various estimates, some 300,000 to 400,000 people are currently employed in the nanotechnologies industry in Europe. In France, over 5,000 workers in companies and 7,000 laboratory researchers might be exposed. Assessment of the effects of nanomaterials on worker health is a core concern of OSH specialists, both nationally and internationally, and it is one of the priority programmes of INRS.

In 2008, INRS set up an action programme for nanomaterial-related risks. The primary aim of this work is to enhance knowledge (laboratory research and field studies) and transfer it to the workplace. The programme is designed to provide some answers to the challenges raised by nanomaterials.

The programme focuses on:

  • the assessment of the dangers of nanomaterials to health via toxicological studies. Such studies are conducted primarily using inhalation tests to investigate properties which determine toxicity, the migration in cells or the body, and the genotoxic potential of nanomaterials;
  • the characterisation of nanomaterials and occupational exposure to nanomaterials;
  • the effectiveness of collective protective equipment and personal protective equipment;
  • the management and perception of risks and communication on the subject.

The programme includes the acquisition of new equipment and the setting up of safe testing facilities. In 2013, INRS inaugurated its “Nano” research unit in order to bring together employees who are involved in research on nanomaterials in a dedicated location, facilitating exchanges and multi-disciplinary cooperation between the different teams. This new laboratory, approximately 600 square metres in size, offers:

  • an area reserved for toxicology studies, nanoparticle generation and exposure of animals (rodents) by inhalation, meeting the regulatory requirements for animal testing;
  • an ISO class 5 clean room initially dedicated to work on collective protective equipment;
  • a zone including an area for the CAIMAN experimental facility and four areas equipped with safety cabinets and controlled environment chambers, for activities relating to nanoparticle characterisation and metrology, and respiratory protective devices.

In addition to this research, INRS is also conducting sociological studies, for example on workplace organisation and prevention measures in laboratories using manufactured nanomaterials.

Because prevention measures must be put in place even before more detailed answers about risks are known, INRS develops and recommends suitable prevention measures and finds the consensus necessary to assist companies. INRS publishes and distributes tools to raise awareness and provide information.


INRS has launched a process to establish appropriate threshold values for manufactured nanomaterials. A first article was published in March 2016 in the INRS journal Hygiène & Sécurité au Travail on nanoscale titanium dioxide, and research will continue in 2017 on carbon nanomaterials.


INRS also provides support and advice to companies and laboratories, particularly in regards to the characterisation of occupational exposure (by conducting on-site measurement campaigns) and the assessment and implementation of prevention solutions.

Lastly, INRS provides training for a wide and diverse audience.

The programme builds both on INRS's multidisciplinary teams, which bring together toxicologists, chemists, physicists, air flow experts, physicians and epidemiologists, and on external partnerships. Much of the work is carried out within the context of doctoral theses and cooperation, both nationally (national cooperation agreements with CEA, CNRS, ANSES, INERIS, etc.) and internationally (including European projects like NANoREG, NanoCEN, Nanogenotox and SmartNanoTox, OECD, PEROSH, etc.).

A foresight exercise on the development of nanomaterials by 2030 and their consequences on occupational safety and health in small enterprises in France took place in 2014. It was conducted in cooperation with French partners, the Swiss accident insurance fund (Suva) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA).

European Projects

  • European and international standardisation

    INRS takes part in efforts towards the standardisation of nanomaterials by way of the ISO TC 229 and CEN TC 352 committees. Several of the many ongoing projects of these committees are closely related to action taken by INRS and more generally speaking are useful for prevention:

    • General framework for the development of occupational exposure limits and bands for nano-objects and their aggregates and agglomerates (ISO 18637)
    • Nanotechnologies – Nano-object aerosol generators for inhalation toxicity studies (ISO TR 19601)
    • Nanotechnologies – Safety practices in occupational settings relevant to nanotechnologies (ISO TR 12885)
    • Guide to the management of waste and the disposal of nanomaterials (00352014)
    • Manufactured nanomaterials in the construction industry: guidelines for occupational risk management (00352023)

    Facilitating the safety evaluation of manufactured nanomaterials by characterising their potential genotoxic hazard

    INRS was a partner in the European project NANOGENOTOX that was co-funded by the European Commission and co-ordinated by AFSSET (the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety). 16 bodies from 11 EU Member States took part in the project, for a period of three years (2010-2013). The aim was to give the European Commission a rigorous method of assessing the genotoxic potential of nanomaterials. 14 manufactured nanomaterials grouped together into three families of products were tested: titanium dioxide, silica and carbon nanotubes.

    INRS’s contribution consisted in characterising the physico-chemical properties of the nanomaterials tested, i.e. roughly 15 products containing titanium dioxides, synthetic amorphous silica and carbon nanotubes, and in carrying out in vitro and in vivo genetic toxicology tests.

    This project yielded numerous results including the development of protocols for the characterisation of nanomaterials and the dispersion to be used for toxicity testing. In vitro genotoxicity tests revealed the difficulty in assessing the toxicological properties of nanomaterials and inter-laboratory comparison tests highlighted the complexity of studying the genotoxicity induced by these chemicals. In vivo genotoxicity tests did not allow a clear assessment of the genotoxicity of the nanomaterials tested. All of the results will be included in the OECD database and may assist in assessing the hazards of nanomaterials. 

    For further information and to see all the deliverables of the project: http://www.nanogenotox.eu


    The NANoREG European Project: A common European approach to the regulatory testing of Manufactured Nanomaterials

    INRS was a partner in the NANoREG European project that was co-funded by the European Commission under the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) and co-ordinated by the Dutch Ministry for the Environment. About sixty partners from sixteen Member States took part in the four-year project (2013-2017), including INRS counterparts such as the Dutch TNO, the Danish NRCWE, the Norwegian STAMI, and the Finnish FIOH. Through an assessment of existing scientific data and of new knowledge in the field of nanomaterials, this project aimed to give legislators relevant methods for improving assessment and management of human and environmental risks and for improving the regulations relating to manufactured nanomaterials (MNs).

    Essentially, the work was focused on characterising nanomaterials, developing in vitro / in vivo methods of testing for ecotoxicology and toxicology, and determining exposure of workers, of consumers, and of the environment throughout the life cycle of nanomaterials.

    INRS was mainly involved in the following aspects: characterising occupational exposures; collective protection; and in vivo toxicology. Regarding the first aspect, INRS developed various protocols for identifying and characterising nanomaterials in powder form and in aerosol form. The second aspect was dedicated to assessing the effectiveness of collective protective devices in the presence of various types of MNs. Furthermore, the model for predicting how MNs travel around workplaces developed by INRS was assessed experimentally for NANoREG, in conjunction with various exposure models. The last aspect related to assessing the pulmonary toxicity of carbon nanotubes. For that purpose, inhalation toxicology work was conducted on two of these nanomaterials selected on the basis of experimental data generated by other partners in the consortium.

    For further information: http://nanoreg.eu


    Within the framework of a European Commission mandate (M461) inviting European Standards Organisations – CEN, CENELEC and ETSI – to draw up a series of standards on nanomaterials, INRS is taking part in four projects related to exposure assessment. All of the projects include prenormative research as well as the writing of standards. This work will be carried out particularly in response to questions by the CEN/TC 137 WG3 working group on “Assessment of workplace exposure to chemical and biological agents – Particulate matter”. Started in January 2013, this work will continue until 2019.

    More specifically, INRS is coordinating all of the actions related to the characterisation of the dustiness of powdered nanomaterial, in partnership with the organisations in Poland (CIOP), the UK (HSL), Germany (IGF), Denmark (NRCWE) and the Netherlands (TNO). INRS is also contributing to the topics on the measurement of the number, mass and surface area of particle concentrations. In addition, the Institute is assisting in the development of a harmonised strategy for exposure assessment.


    Smart tools for gauging nano hazards

    SmartNanoTox is a four-year long joint research and innovation project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. A consortium of 11 European academic and industrial partners working in the field is coordinated by University College Dublin. Eight countries are involved in the consortium, including two French partners – INRS and the University of Lorraine.

    SmartNanoTox is aimed at developing economic and straightforward tests to assess the hazards associated with human or animal exposure to a specific nanomaterial. In particular, predictive software for toxicity will be developed based on systems biology, along with a decision tree to guide the investigator wishing to assess the toxicity of nanomaterials.

    The role of INRS is to share its expertise on inhalation and instillation toxicity studies with the consortium. In particular, INRS will study the effects of nanomaterials on gene expression at the pulmonary level and compare them with data obtained from cell cultures, to help establish predictive in vitro tests.

    For further information: http://www.smartnanotox.eu

For download

INRS Brochures
Last update on 10/03/2017