Deposition of graphene nanomaterial aerosols in human upper airways

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2016;13(1):48-59. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2015.1076162.


Graphene nanomaterials have attracted wide attention in recent years on their application to state-of-the-art technology due to their outstanding physical properties. On the other hand, the nanotoxicity of graphene materials also has rapidly become a serious concern especially in occupational health. Graphene naomaterials inevitably could become airborne in the workplace during manufacturing processes. The inhalation and subsequent deposition of graphene nanomaterial aerosols in the human respiratory tract could potentially result in adverse health effects to exposed workers. Therefore, investigating the deposition of graphene nanomaterial aerosols in the human airways is an indispensable component of an integral approach to graphene occupational health. For this reason, this study carried out a series of airway replica deposition experiments to obtain original experimental data for graphene aerosol airway deposition. In this study, graphene aerosols were generated, size classified, and delivered into human airway replicas (nasal and oral-to-lung airways). The deposition fraction and deposition efficiency of graphene aerosol in the airway replicas were obtained by a novel experimental approach. The experimental results acquired showed that the fractional deposition of graphene aerosols in airway sections studied were all less than 4%, and the deposition efficiency in each airway section was generally lower than 0.03. These results indicate that the majority of the graphene nanomaterial aerosols inhaled into the human respiratory tract could easily penetrate through the head airways as well as the upper part of the tracheobronchial airways and then transit down to the lower lung airways, where undesired biological responses might be induced.

Keywords: Aerosol; deposition efficiency; graphene nanomaterial; human airway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Graphite / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis*
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Nanostructures / analysis*
  • Particle Size
  • Respiratory System / chemistry*


  • Aerosols
  • Graphite