Student Research: Ling Cui

A Health Study of Occupational Calcium Carbonate Nanoparticle Exposure
Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH)


Problem: Nanotechnology is one of the most rapidly growing fields of science and engineering, and its applications have expanded to numerous research and industrial sectors, from consumer products to medicine to energy. Nano-materials and nanotechnology promise substantial benefits. However, there are many uncertainties and concerns regarding human health and the environment. Numerous toxicological studies on animals and cells in vitro have demonstrated that nanomaterials could cause various adverse health effects, including
inflammation, oxidative stress, fibrosis and mutagenesis in the lungs, and cardiovascular and nervous system impairment.

Objectives: The overall objective of this study was to characterize particulate exposures in a calcium carbonate nanoparticle manufacturing facility, investigate possible respiratory and cardiovascular effects, and explore the plausibility than an inflammatory mechanism. The associations between exposure level and various health outcomes were investigated.

Methodology: Each job was characterized by mass, number and surface area concentration. Job classification was performed based on ranking of the exposure level and statistical models. Lung function tests, exhaled NO and blood pressure (BP) were measured before and after the workshift in the year of 2011. Inflammatory cytokines from induced sputum were measured cross-sectionally in the year of 2011. Data of lung function tests and blood pressure were collected cross-sectionally in the year of 2012. The associations between each exposure metric and health measures in 2012 were investigated. Only mass concentration was linked to both 2011 and 2012 health outcomes.

Results: The sampling and analytic methodology used in the study presents the potential to characterize nanoparticle exposure for a variety of operational processes. We found the highest mass exposure occurred at bagging job whereas the highest number and surface area concentration was found at modification. Modification is suspected to be the primary emission source. It is discovered nanoparticles in the size range of 20-300nm dominate in this workplace, which consists of 90-98% of particle counts in the respirable fraction. Based on the sampling results from 2012, there was a strong relationship between number concentration in 5-25um range and the respirable mass concentration (r= 0.908); however, no such correlation was found between number concentration in nanoscale and respirable mass (r= 0.018). The deposited surface area in TB (r=0.66) and alveolar region (r=0.46) was modestly correlated with number concentration of particles in the nanoscale.

A reduced FEV1 and increased BP were consistently found among medium-mass exposure compared to low-mass exposure, however no statistical significance was found. When comparing the four exposure metrics, we found number concentration and surface area concentration in general produce effects in similar direction, however opposite to mass concentration. Such observation is consistent with the correlation among these exposure metrics.

Airway inflammatory responses presented a dose-response relationship using mass as exposure metric. The concentrations of IL1β (p=0.043) and IL8 (p=0.008) in sputum among high mass-exposure group were statistically greater than that in low-mass exposure group. It suggested the inflammatory responses were associated with mass concentration of inhaled nanoparticle particles, which are mainly made up by agglomerated form of nanoparticles. At current stage, with limited understanding of the toxicological perspective of nanoparticle, a complete exposure assessment in nanoparticle facility needs to be conducted in both bulk- and nano-form.