Abstract Humans and the environment can come into contact with nanomaterials through a wide range of applications during all stages of the life cycle of nanoproducts. The aim of this commentary is to present an assessment of the potential for exposure and thus identify possible environmental, health and safety (EHS) issues for nanomaterials used in 10 technology sectors. We analysed all life cycle stages with regard to potential for exposure of workers, consumers/patients, and the environment. A wide variety of nanomaterials are used of which many have negligible potential for exposure, while others have medium or even high potential for exposure. Based on the likelihood of exposure, it appears that in general most attention should be paid to the agrifood, chemistry/materials, textiles and health sectors; and less to the information and communication technology (ICT), security and energy sectors. Toxicity and exposure are both important; however, the EHS impact of nanomaterials is always dependent on their particular use.