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Ann Occup Hyg. 2016 Jan;60(1):40-55. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/mev073. Epub 2015 Oct 7.

Characterization of Potential Exposures to Nanoparticles and Fibers during Manufacturing and Recycling of Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Polypropylene Composites.

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1.Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA 01854, USA
1.Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA 01854, USA.
2.Department of Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA 01854, USA.
3.Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Carbon nanotube (CNT) polymer composites are widely used as raw materials in multiple industries because of their excellent properties. This expansion, however, is accompanied by realistic concerns over potential release of CNTs and associated nanoparticles during the manufacturing, recycling, use, and disposal of CNT composite products. Such data continue to be limited, especially with regards to post-processing of CNT-enabled products, recycling and handling of nanowaste, and end-of-life disposal. This study investigated for the first time airborne nanoparticle and fibers exposures during injection molding and recycling of CNT polypropylene composites (CNT-PP) relative to that of PP. Exposure characterization focused on source emissions during loading, melting, molding, grinding, and recycling of scrap material over 20 cycles and included real-time characterization of total particle number concentration and size distribution, nanoparticle and fiber morphology, and fiber concentrations near the operator. Total airborne nanoparticle concentration emitted during loading, melting, molding, and grinding of CNT-PP had geometric mean ranging from 1.2 × 10(3) to 4.3 × 10(5) particles cm(-3), with the highest exposures being up to 2.9 and 300.7 times above the background for injection molding and grinding, respectively. Most of these emissions were similar to PP synthesis. Melting and molding of CNT-PP and PP produced exclusively nanoparticles. Grinding of CNT-PP but not PP generated larger particles with encapsulated CNTs, particles with CNT extrusions, and respirable fiber (up to 0.2 fibers cm(-3)). No free CNTs were found in any of the processes. The number of recycling runs had no significant impact on exposures. Further research into the chemical composition of the emitted nanoparticles is warranted. In the meanwhile, exposure controls should be instituted during processing and recycling of CNT-PP.


carbon nanotube polypropylene composite; fiber exposure; grinding; injection molding; nanoparticle exposure; occupational safety and health; recycling

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