Assessing the first wave of epidemiological studies of nanomaterial workers

  • Saou-Hsing Liou
  • Candace S. J. Tsai
  • Daniela Pelclova
  • Mary K. Schubauer-Berigan
  • Paul A. Schulte


The results of early animal studies of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) and air pollution epidemiology suggest that it is important to assess the health of ENM workers. Initial epidemiological studies of workers’ exposure to ENMs (<100 nm) are reviewed and characterized for their study designs, findings, and limitations. Of the 15 studies, 11 were cross-sectional, 4 were longitudinal (1 was both cross-sectional and longitudinal in design), and 1 was a descriptive pilot study. Generally, the studies used biologic markers as the dependent variables. All 11 cross-sectional studies showed a positive relationship between various biomarkers and ENM exposures. Three of the four longitudinal studies showed a negative relationship; the fourth showed positive findings after a 1-year follow-up. Each study considered exposure to ENMs as the independent variable. Exposure was assessed by mass concentration in 10 studies and by particle count in six studies. Six of them assessed both mass and particle concentrations. Some of the studies had limited exposure data because of inadequate exposure assessment. Generally, exposure levels were not very high in comparison to those in human inhalation chamber studies, but there were some exceptions. Most studies involved a small sample size, from 2 to 258 exposed workers. These studies represent the first wave of epidemiological studies of ENM workers. They are limited by small numbers of participants, inconsistent (and in some cases inadequate) exposure assessments, generally low exposures, and short intervals between exposure and effect. Still, these studies are a foundation for future work; they provide insight into where ENM workers are experiencing potentially adverse effects that might be related to ENM exposures.


Epidemiological studies Nanomaterial workers Biological markers Cross-sectional study Longitudinal panel study Sample size Nanoparticle exposure 


Antioxidant markers


Superoxide dismutase


Glutathione peroxidase

Oxidative stress markers






5-Hydroxymethyl uracil


8-Iso-prostaglandin F2α

















Pulmonary effect markers


Clara cell protein


Fractional exhaled nitric oxide


Krebs Von den Lungen 6


Macrophage inflammatory protein-1β


Pulmonary function test


Forced vital capacity


Forced expiratory volume at 1 s


Maximal mid-expiratory flow


Peak expiratory flow rate

FEF25 %

Forced expiratory flow at 25 %

FEF50 %

Forced expiratory flow at 50 %

FEF75 %

Forced expiratory flow at 75 %


Transforming growth factor beta-1

Systemic inflammation markers


Highly sensitive C-reactive protein








Interleukin-6 soluble receptor


Nuclear factor-kappaβ


Tumor necrosis factor α

Vascular or endothelial function biomarkers


Highly sensitive C-reactive protein


Intercellular adhesion molecule




Interleukin-6 soluble receptor




Vascular cell adhesion molecule


Heart rate variability


Standard deviation of all normal to normal R–R intervals


The root mean square of successive differences between adjacent normal cycles


Low frequency/high frequency ratio


Low frequency


High frequency


Very low frequency


Carbon nanotube/carbon nanofiber


Exhaled breath condensate


Engineered nanomaterials


Engineered nanoparticles




Nano-objects, their aggregates and agglomerates


Ultrafine particles



This study was partly supported by the National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan (Grants 01A1-EOSP03-014) and the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Taiwan (Grants IOSH101-M323). The authors also thank project teams P25/1LF/2 and P28/1LF/6, of the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, which supported this work.


SHL and CSJT conceived the study. SHL, CSJT, DP, and MKSB searched and checked the databases according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. PAS helped to develop search strategies. SHL, CSJT, DP, MKSB, and PAS extracted the data and assessed their quality. SHL wrote the draft of the paper. All authors contributed to writing, reviewing, or revising the paper and read and approved the final manuscript.


The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Taiwan National Health Research Institutes.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saou-Hsing Liou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Candace S. J. Tsai
    • 3
    • 4
  • Daniela Pelclova
    • 5
  • Mary K. Schubauer-Berigan
    • 6
  • Paul A. Schulte
    • 6
  1. 1.National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesNational Health Research InstitutesMiaoli CountyTaiwan, ROC
  2. 2.Graduate Institute of Life SciencesNational Defense Medical Center, Academia Sinica, and National Health Research InstitutesTaipeiTaiwan
  3. 3.Department of Environmental and Radiological Health ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Birck Nanotechnology CenterPurdue UniversityDiscovery ParkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Occupational Medicine, First Faculty of MedicineCharles University in PraguePragueCzech Republic
  6. 6.National Institute for Occupational Safety and HealthCincinnatiUSA

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