Personal Exposure to Ultrafine Particles in the Workplace: Exploring Sampling Techniques and Strategies

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Recently, toxicological and epidemiological studies on health effects related to particle exposure suggest that ‘ultrafine particles’ (particles with an aerodynamic diameter of <100 nm) may cause severe health effects after inhalation. Although the toxicological mechanisms for these effects have not yet been explained, it is apparent that measuring exposures against mass alone is not sufficient. It is also necessary to consider exposures against surface area and number concentration. From earlier research it was hypothesized that results on number concentration and particle distributions may vary with distance to the source, limiting the reliability of estimates of personal exposure from results which were obtained using static measurement equipment. Therefore, a workplace study was conducted to explore the performance of measurement methods in a multi-source emission scenario as part of a sampling strategy to estimate personal exposure. In addition, a laboratory study was conducted to determine possible influences of both distance to source and time course on particle number concentration and particle size distribution. In both studies different measurement equipment and techniques were used to characterize (total) particle number concentration. These included a condensation particle counter (CPC), a scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS) and an electrical low pressure impactor (ELPI). For the present studies CPC devices seemed to perform well for the identification of particle emission sources. The range of ultrafine particle number concentration can be detected by both SMPS and ELPI. An important advantage of the ELPI is that aerosols with ultrafine sizes can be collected for further analysis. Specific surface area of the aerosols can be estimated using gas adsorption analysis; however, with this technique ultrafine particles cannot be distinguished from particles with non-ultrafine sizes. Consequently, estimates based on samples collected from the breathing zone and scanning electron microscopic analysis may give a more reliable estimate of the specific surface area of the ultrafine particles responsible for personal exposure. The results of both the experimental and the workplace study suggest both spatial and temporal variation in total number concentration and aerosol size distribution. Therefore, the results obtained from static measurements and grab sampling should be interpreted with care as estimates of personal exposure. For evaluation of workplace exposure to ultrafine particles it is recommended that all relevant characteristics of such exposure are measured as part of a well-designed sampling strategy.

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