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Survey of California construction workers shows low awareness of nanotechnology, health risks

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Photo: Cynthia Farmer/iStock/Thinkstock

Silver Spring, MD — Awareness of nanotechnology or nanoparticles in the construction industry remains relatively low among contractors, union leaders and apprenticeship program staff, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by the Center for Construction Research and Training – also known as CPWR.

CPWR surveyed 253 unionized construction workers representing 24 crafts in California about their understanding and use of nanotechnology applications in heavy industrial/commercial construction. Researchers also conducted 21 follow-up interviews with respondents and five interviews with California state agency employees.

They found that only 25 percent of participants said they knew about the use of nanotechnology or nanoparticles in construction materials, while nearly 20 percent reported they had never heard the terms “nanotechnology” and “nanoparticles.”

A portion of construction workers surveyed were being exposed to nanomaterials without knowing it. When presented a list of “nano-enabled construction products” from the Construction Nanomaterials Inventory in CPWR’s Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health, 44 percent of respondents said they had worked with some of the products or recognized the names of them.

Only 2 percent of workers who responded had been given training on nanomaterials, while 75 percent of those who were aware of nanotechnology said they wanted new training materials.


A strategic plan to increase awareness and improve understanding “must include a combination of research, outreach, training and stakeholder collaboration,” states the study, which provides six recommendations:

  • Cleary define nanotechnology terms.
  • Gather data on “potential acute and long-term health effects from worker exposure to nanomaterials.”
  • Develop educational materials.
  • Produce a training video.
  • Continue survey efforts to a wider audience and testing the eLCOSH inventory list.
  • Connect unions with researchers.

“Nanotechnology is here to stay, and it is developing at an extremely fast pace,” the study concludes. “Products that contain engineered nanomaterials are already being used in construction even though the workers using them may have little or no understanding of nanotechnology. We must help union leaders and apprenticeship programs get up to speed and raise awareness about the benefits and concerns associated with this new technology. We don’t want to repeat the experiences of the past that ultimately cost workers their lives.”

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