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To Nano or not to Nano…

By: Rosemary Stephen PMed, (cert) EOH, IPM, Elements: Environmental Health Intelligence

ResearchBlogging.org

When I hear the word “nanoparticles” I think about science fiction where nanobots are injected into someone to cause disease, to cure a disease or to allow the hero to become super human. I have been reluctant to know more about nanotechnology because there are uncertainties as to the safety of nanoparticules. There are no regulations governing nanoparticles and no requirement for the industry to disclose the potential health impacts of working with, or using, nanoparticles [1].

About 50 years ago, Physicist Richard Feynman gave a talk at Caltech that described a process where individual atoms and molecules could be manipulated [2]. Later, in 1974, Professor Norio Taniguchi of the Tokyo Science University helped define the term “nanotechnology”. Professor Taniguchi described processes where separation, consolidation and deformation of materials was done on particles the size of one atom, or one molecule [3]. In 1986, Dr. K. Eric Drexler promoted nanotechnology in two books, “Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology” and “Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation” explaining the technological significance of nano-scale phenomena [4]. His main interest, in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, has been to explore the uses of nanotechnology to solve global issues such as energy and climate change [5]. In 2000, the United States National Nanotechnology Initiative was founded to help coordinate Federal research and development in this new field [6]. Nanotechnology is now leading the way in the fields of energy, medicine and the environment [7].

According to the UK’s Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 71 [8], which was commissioned to develop the use of common language for nanotechnologies, nanoparticles are defined as “ A particle having one or more dimensions of the order of 100nm or less” [9]. Nanoparticles are, therefore, 50,000 to 1000,000 times thinner than human hair. Nanoparticles have interesting properties such has anti-reflection coatings, mechanical wear resistance, treatment of industrial emissions that appeal to industries [10, 11]. These industries have created strong, efficient, carbon-based products with applications in emergency and humanitarian aid, in mitigation and removal of environmental pressure caused by our technology and in rapid and flexible manufacturing [12]. At the moment, nanomaterials are present in more than 800 consumer products [13] of which at least 200 are found in health and fitness products. Nanomaterials are also used in home and garden products, in electronics and computers, in food and beverages, in cross cutting of metals, in automotive, in appliances and in goods for children[14].

Should I be worried about nanoparticles in the products I buy? Consumers and environmentalists are quite concerned about health and safety uncertainties of nanoparticles. They feel that this technology is coming on the market too quickly and without any serious studies. UNESCO, however, feels that people tend to react to nanotechnology the same way they have reacted to genetically modified foods, which saw their banning and created international conflicts [15]. Consumers and environmentalists in France are presently mobilizing to make their opinion known. Although the French Special Commission for the Public Debate on Nanotechnology (CNDP ) is offering to listen to public concerns, recent discussions were disrupted by public and environmental groups to the point where the meeting was canceled [16].  There were five more discussions held in France in February 2010. These discussions did not have similar disruptions because the Commission opted instead to debate nano technology on a national level. The Commission created a web site where the general public was able to express their views by asking questions and answering a questionnaire. The Special Commission for the Public Debate on Nanotechnology will publish the results of the public opinion polls on ethics and governance issues on April 24th 2010 [17, 18, 19].

Studies done on humans and animals indicate there are potential health concerns especially with carbon nanotubes [4F]. Dr Maynard, Chief Science Adviser on Emerging Nanotechnologies [20], authored a study done on mice exposed to incinerated broken nanotubes. His findings showed mice suffered from symptoms similar to asbestiosis because airborne nanoparticles, once inhaled, were deposited in the respiratory tract. Amoabediny, Gh and al. explained that “According to the researches no particle with an aerodynamic diameter of 1 nm, or 0.001 micrometre, reaches the alveoli, while 80% are deposited in the nose and pharynx. The other 20% are deposited in the tracheobronchial region”. Particles 5 nm and larger, are found mostly in the “alveolar region of the lungs”. This may cause lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma [21]. We now know that workers exposed to nanoparticles show decreased lung function and fibrotic lung disease [1F, 2F] [22], especially workers who use nanomaterials in applications such as coating, cutting or grinding and in workers maintaining dust collection systems. There are also concerns over the safety of firefighters. Information is lacking about the explosive potential and fire risks of nanoparticles, especially in powder form because catalytic reactions [3F] are not well known [23] .

Due to the many uncertainties and possible adverse health effects on workers, two agencies have become involved in the creation of nanotechnology guidelines: the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the British Standards Institution. Both agencies feel that inhalation exposure should be a first priority in the development of guidelines, but ingestion and dermal contact should not be neglected.

NIOSH has published a document entitled Current Intelligence Bulletin Interim Guidance for Medical Screening and Hazard Surveillance for Workers Potentially Exposed to Engineered Nanoparticles. Although NIOSH acknowledge insufficient scientific and medical evidence, they still recommend that hazard surveillance be conducted [24]. NIOSH feels that improvement of engineering control techniques such as isolating the source of nanoparticle emissions and local exhaust ventilation systems with a high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) are effective means to remove airborne nanoparticles from the work environment [25]. They also reinforce sound work practices that already exist in the industries: cleaning work areas with vacuum units equipped with HEPA filters, wet wiping, banning the consumption of food and beverages in the workplace as well as providing hand washing facilities and shower and change rooms for changing into work clothes [26]. There are no current guidelines specifically regulating workers’ clothing, but standards already exist which include nanometer-sized particles. Respirators that are NIOSH certified, if they are properly selected and fit tested, will afford appropriate respiratory protection [27].

The British Standards Institution (BSI) published a series of documents on the safe handling and disposal of nanomaterials [28, 29]. Document PD 6699-2:2007 states that when doing risk assessments, nanomaterials should be categorized into specific groups: fibrous, carcinogenic, mutagenic, asthmagenic of a reproductive toxin, insoluble and soluble. Exposure should be controlled by using the “Hierarchy of Control”: eliminate, substitute, enclose, engineering control, procedural control only or personal protective equipment (PPE) [30]. This approach is similar to what NIOSH is proposing for worker protection. BSI also proposes that the selection of controls should ensure that workers are exposed to nanomaterial at as low as practical levels [31]. Health surveillance does not currently have any specific tests to measure adverse health effects, but BSI feels that the collection of information such as the type of nanomaterial being used and the length of exposure should be done during medical examinations [32].

Consumer and non occupational exposure is mostly through ingestion or dermal application. Nanoparticules such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are found in sunscreen and nano silver in food supplements [33]. Limited in vivo studies on sunscreens have reported mild skin irritation for topical application. No evidence of photo-irritation, sensitization, or photo-sensitization have been reported. Beryllium ultrafine nanoparticles, however, have been responsible for the appearance cutaneous nodules on the skin [34]. In the environment, nanoparticles may be found in contaminated drinking water and on food. If hand hygiene or the proper washing of food produce is not practiced, ingestion may be through the hand-to-mouth route. Once ingested, nanoparticles pass through the intestinal walls and eventually reach the bloodstream. At the time this blog was written, little is known about the possible health effects of nanoparticles on digestive organs [35].

In the environment, soil bacteria and other organisms may ingest nanoparticles. This process will either help to bioaccumulate nanoparticles or help in their release as metabolites. Amoabediny, Gh and al. feels that metabolites “may be toxic to microorganisms under aerobic and anaerobic conditions” [36].

Conclusion:

Consumers and environmentalist are concerned about the health and safety uncertainties of nanoparticles. UNESCO feels that the public will react to nanomaterials the same way they have reacted to genetically modified foods because there are no regulations that govern nanotechnology and there is no real disclosure to the general public about possible adverse health affects when nanoparticles are inhaled, ingested or when they are in contact with the skin. Nanomaterials are currently present in more than 800 consumer products of which at least 200 are found in products for health and fitness. Studies done on humans and animals indicate that there are potential health concerns especially with carbon nanotubes. Airborne nanoparticles can be inhaled and deposited in the respiratory tract the same way as asbestos fibers. Two agencies, the NIOSH and the BSI, have published a series of documents designed to advise industries how to protect workers involved in manufacturing nanomaterials. These are only guidelines aimed at protecting workers, and there are still uncertainties about what needs to be addressed before nanotechnology is considered safe.

Rosemary Stephen, PMed, (cert) EOH, IPM (2010). To Nano or not to Nano Elements: Environmental Health Intelligence

References

[1] Nanotechnology Asbestos (2010) Everything Asbestos. (On-line) Available: http://www.everythingasbestos.com/asbestos/nanotechnology-asbestos/. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

[2] Nanotechnology (2010) Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. (On-line) Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanotechnology.Cited 2010 Jan 20.

[3] Ibid. Cited 2010 Jan 20.

[4] K. Eric Drexler, PhD. (2008) E-drexler.com. (on-line) Available: http://e-drexler.com/p/idx04/00/0404drexlerBioCV.html. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[5] Ibid. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[6] Nanotechnology (2010) Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. (On-line) Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanotechnology.Cited 2010 Jan 20.

[7] NNI Environmental, Health and Safety Issues (2010) National Nanotechnology Initiative. (On-line) Available: http://www.nano.gov/html/society/EHS.html. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[8] Vocabulary, Nanoparticles (2010) PAS71, BSI. (On-line) Available: http://www.bsigroup.com/en/sectorsandservices/Forms/PAS-71/. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

[9] What are nanoparticles? (2010) Nanotechnology solutions, Malvern. (On-line) Available: http://www.malvern.com/labeng/industry/nanotechnology/nanoparticles_definition.htm. Cited2010 Jan 20.

[10] Why are nanoparticles in the headlines now? (2010) Nanotechnology solutions, Malvern (On-line) Available: http://www.malvern.com/labeng/industry/nanotechnology/nanoparticle_headlines.htm. Cited 2010 Jan 20.

[11] Properties and current applications of nanoparticles (2010) Innovative solutions in material Characterization, Malvern. (On-line) Available: http://www.malvern.com/LabEng/industry/nanotechnology/nanoparticle_applications.htm. Cited 2010 Mar 16.

[12] Phoenix, C. and Treder, T. Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology (2003) Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. (On-line) Available: http://www.crnano.org/safe.htm. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

[13] Bass, C. Tiny Troubles. How Nanoparticles Are Changing Everything From Our Sunscreen to Our Supplements (2009) Emagazine.com. (On-line) Available: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4723. Cited 20101 Jan 21.

[14] Hatto, P. Dr. International Standardization for Nanotechnologies (2007) InBond. (On-line) Available: http://sei.nnin.org/doc/resource/Presentation_International_Standardization_for_Nanotechnologies.pdf. Cited 2010 Jan 21.

[15] The Ethics and Politics of Nanotechnology (2006) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (On-line) Available: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001459/145951e.pdf. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

[16] Enserink, Martin. Loud Starts End France’s Nanotech Debates (2010) Nanotechnology and Development News, Meridian Institute. (On-line) Available: http://www.merid.org/NDN/more.php?id=2374

[17] French nanodebate targets ethics (2010) Nanoforum.org, European Nanotechnology Gateway. (On-line) Available: http://www.nanoforum.org/nf06~modul~showmore~folder~99999~scc~news~scid~4072~.html?action=longview&. Cited 2010 Mar 18.

[18] Enserink, Martin. Loud Starts End France’s Nanotech Debates (2010) Nanotechnology and Development News, Meridian Institute. (On-line) Available: http://www.merid.org/NDN/more.php?id=2374

[19] Quels seront les thèmes du débat public? (2009) Dossier du lancement du débat, Mode d’emploi du débat public Nanotechnologies. Commission particulière du débat public Nanotechnologie. (On-line) Available: http://www.debatpublic-nano.org/documents/documents-par-type.html. Cited 2010 Mar 16.

[20] Andrew Maynard Ph.D. (2010) Biography. (On-line) Available: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/TechnologyDevelopment/upload/Maynard_Bio.pdf. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

[21] Amoabediny, Gh and al. Guidelines for Safe Handling, Use and Disposal of Nanoparticles (2008) International Conference on Safe production and use of nanomaterials, IOPscience. (On-line) Available: http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/170/1/012037/pdf/jpconf9_170_012037.pdf?ejredirect=migration. Cited 2010 Mar 17.

[22] Andrew Maynard Ph.D. (2010) Biography. (On-line) Available: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/TechnologyDevelopment/upload/Maynard_Bio.pdf. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

[23] Approches to Safe Nano Technology, Managing the Health and Safety Concerns Associated with Engineered Nanomaterials (2009) Department of Health and Humane Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (On-line) Available: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2009-125/pdfs/2009-125.pdf. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[24] Ibid. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[25] Ibid. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[26] Ibid. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[27] Ibid. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[28] Standardizing nanotechnologies, heavyweight small science (2007) Institute of nanotechnology. (On-line) Available: http://nano.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3255. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[29] Safe approach to nanotechnology – BSI British Standards publishes new guidance for UK industry (2008) Engineering Specifier. (On-line) Available: http://www.engineeringspecifier.com/Industry-News/Safe-approach-to-nanotechnology—BSI-British-Standards-publishes-new-guidance-for-UK-industry.asp. Cited 20101 Jan 22.

[30] Guide to the safe handling and disposal of manufactured nanomaterials, Part 2 (2007) Nanotecnologies. Published Document PD6699-2:2007. (On-line) Acailable: http://www.bsigroup.com/en/sectorsandservices/Forms/PD-6699-2/Confirmation/. Cited 20101 Jan 25.

[31] Ibid. Cited 20101 Jan 25.

[32] Ibid. Cited 20101 Jan 25.

[33] Seaton, A. and al. Nanoparticles, human health hazard and regulation (2009) Interface, Journal of the Royal Society. (On-line) Available: http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2009/08/31/rsif.2009.0252.focus.full#sec-8. Cited 12010 Mar 17.

[34] Amoabediny, Gh and al. Guidelines for Safe Handling, Use and Disposal of Nanoparticles (2008) International Conference on Safe production and use of nanomaterials, IOPscience. (On-line) Available: http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/170/1/012037/pdf/jpconf9_170_012037.pdf?ejredirect=migration. Cited 2010 Mar 17.

[35] Ibid. Cited 2010 Mar 17.

[36] Ibid. Cited 2010 Mar 17.

Endnotes:

[1F] [2F] Fibrotic lung disease : it is an respiratory disease that is acquired by prolonged exposure to visible asbestos dust fibers . These fibers are chronic irritant that leads to scarring of the lung tissue. In the case of nanomaterial, nanoparticules because of their small size (< 100 nanometers) high concentration can be dangerous to humans.

Korenchan, C.M. Fibrotic Lung Disease (2010) eHow. (On-line) Available: http://www.ehow.com/about_5477240_fibrotic-lung-disease.html. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

Lung and Airway Disorders (2008) Introduction, The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (On-line) Available: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec04/ch049/ch049a.html. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[3F] Catalytic Reaction: Catalysis is the process in which the rate of a chemical reaction is either increased or decreased by means of a chemical substance known as a catalyst.

Catalysis (2010) Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. (On-line) Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalysis. Cited 2010 Jan 22.

[4F] Carbon nanotubes are cylindrical structures comprised of carbon atoms that have been rolled together. Because of their strength, nanotubes will vastly affect business and be widely used in industry.

Nanotechnology Asbestos (2010) Everything Asbestos. (On-line) Available: http://www.everythingasbestos.com/asbestos/nanotechnology-asbestos/. Cited 2010 Jan 25.

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1 Comment  comments 

One Response

  1. Danny Meetoo

    I was glad to read Rosemary Stephen’s views on the effects of nanomaterials in the body. Despite ongoing research there is no doubt the whole issue of nanomaterials and its effects in the body is full of certainty. One thing for certain is that NT will continue to develop. Scientists of this new industrial revolution need to be careful to learn from past and recent mistakes, such as asbestosis. To this end, it is impertaive to engage members of the public in every step of the way and that their views are taken into serious consideration and acted upon as and where appropriate, especially if indeed we are concerned about sustainability not for our generation but for future generations.

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