Electrospinning is fast becoming one of the most widely used nanotechnologies for constructing nanofibers in laboratory. The main danger of electrospinning comes in the high voltage required for spinning nanofibers (typically more than 10 kV) and the solvents used in preparing the solution. In recent years, there are many commercially available electrospinning setups that have safety features built into them. An example is the NANON developed by MECC Co. Ltd. which has exhaust outlet for expelling solvent vapours and an automated cleaning mechanism for removing any clogged solution at the tip of the spinneret. This eliminates the need for the user to manually clean the clogged spinneret tip and also reduced the exposure of the user to the solvent vapors.
If you are constructing your own lab scale electrospinning setup, proper engineering controls and personal protective equipment must be in place to reduce the danger of static shock and harmful solvent exposure.
Generally, the current involved in electrospinning is relatively low and with careful handling, will not pose a significant risk. However, standard operating protocol such as ensuring proper electrical discharge at the spinneret tip before handling the apparatus must be observed. Wearing proper footwear with insulating sole would also minimize static discharge through the user.
A hazard that many users are ignorant of is the organic solvent which is used to prepare the solution. Common solvents such as dimethyl formamide, chloroform, methanol etc. used to prepare electrospinning solution pose long term health hazards and some are known to be carcinogenic while others are suspected to cause birth defects. Therefore, all users must look at the safety data sheet of the solvent to understand the danger they are exposing themselves to.
In the laboratory scale setup, although the electrospinning setup is placed in the fumehood, the fumehood fan cannot be switched on as the nanofibers will be expelled together with the solvent vapours. Thus, users are strongly advised to leave the fumehood fan on first when the high voltage is switched on, then lower the fumehood sash before switching off the fan. The lowered sash would contain the solvent vapours in the fumehood during electrospinning. Before the user lift up the sash, the fumehood fan must be switched on first to expel the accumulated solvent vapours.
In terms of personal protective equipment (PPE), users are advised to purchase at least a half-mask (eg. 3M Half Facepiece Reusable respirator 7500 series) with cartridge which removes or adsorb organic solvents (eg. 3M Gas and Vapor Cartridge 6000 series). Users should also don a chemical resistant goggle to reduce solvent contact through the eyes. This is of particular importance if the user cannot follow the procedures described in the previous paragraph and exposure to the solvent is unavoidable. General PPE for handling chemicals such as lab-coat and compatible gloves must also be worn during electrospinning.
Disclaimer: Each electrospinning setup and its environment pose its own hazards. Information given above should only be taken as a general guideline and may not cover all the risks. ElectrospinTech will not be liable for any damages or accident.