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Nanoparticles could pose threat to humans: scientists

I recently came across this article on PHYSORG.com and found it actually compelling. Why is the strange? Well for one, I am a big believer in nano-technology and the future it holds. My team is also working on a nano project around the reduction of thermal challenges in high performance processors. So I am totally cool with nano-tech (pun intended! πŸ˜‰ )

But why I thought this subject was interesting was because it reminded me of the issues with food safety i.e. irradiation, antibiotics, nut allergies (not the allergy where your allergic to crazy people, but peanuts,etc.) You see, the key point here is this and nicely articulated by Susanne Stark, of the Consumer Information Association. She recently told a seminar in the Austrian city of Salzburg that companies should be forced to indicate on labels whether a product contains the tiny particles. “There are more questions than answers on the effects of nanoparticles” on human health, the chemist said.

Cosmetic and food products should indicate whether their products contain nanoparticles by 2012, she said. Why, because more and more consumer goods are including nano technology. From foods, to cosmetics, to pants! I even have a pair of those pants that are designed to be wrinkle free. Yes, they work pretty well.

But while we are spending all this time on developing very cool stuff, who is looking at the impact on humans i.e. when used in cosmetics, are they biodegradable or do they simply absorb into the skin? Then what? If used in food, how do they absorb or pass through? Or do they stay in your body? Then what? How does the human body process a foreign object like that? Will it cause cancer or other diseases? Do the nano particles stay embedded with the food so when the food breaks down and pass through your body, do they go along? How does the body’s digestive system handle these things? What effect if any do they have on major organs like your liver and kidney’s and the brain?

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of nano tech. But who is asking the post development/implementation questions? Safety, efficacy?
Nano tech is revolutionizing almost everything we do and make. They can make fabric resistant to stains, improve the taste of food and help drug research, but nanoparticles could also pose a danger to human health at worst and best, we simply dont know what effect they have…. yet.

Its also not easy to figure out the impact. You see, nanoparticles, measure no more than 100 nanometres. Thats really really really small. 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Nanoparticles can enter the body through the mouth and nose, the digestive system or the skin, and spread inside the body through blood vessels, said Hans Peter Hutter, a doctor specialized in environmental hygiene in Vienna. “These tiny particles could without a doubt go all the way to the placenta,” he said. But he warned that little was known about their behavior inside human tissue.

With nano tech already being used in numerous products, from medical bandages to golf clubs and paints, Edinburgh University Professor Anthony Seaton, one of Britain’s leading environmental health experts, says concerns that tiny particles from the products might cause respiratory, cardiac and immune problems had not been properly assessed. Speaking with a newspaper ahead of a presentation he gave Tuesday at the Nanoparticles for European Industry conference in London, Seaton said that recommended nano testing “simply hasn’t happened.”

A recent report from a U.S. science watchdog suggested there are already 200 products containing nanoparticles on the marketplace, with hundreds more to be introduced during the coming year.n Nano critics point to asbestos — a nanoparticle already linked with cancer — and the high rate of heart failure in dense pollution areas, as early warnings of nanoparticles’ potential hazards when inhaled.

So what does this mean. Well, in my opinion, we have an incredible opportunity to improve the world through nana technology. No question. I love it and believe in it use across a broad spectrum of applications but, what I think may be needed is some strong research into the post development/implementation impacts of such technology. We simply need to know, what effects this technology will have post use.

Its simply a matter of intellectual honesty, responsibility and good science. If for no other reason, wouldn’t it make sense to see what happens after consumption and usage? This way you could “tweak” the secret sauce to be even better OR make adjustments to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and safety. Again, good, solid, practical science and product development practices. I am all for research on post development/implementation and even labeling. I could create a very strong and creative marketing position around the use of nano tech, so don’t let that be an excuse i.e. people wont buy it if the products labeled with nano-tech. BS. Its very cool and hip.

What do you think? I would really like to know.

-DF

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Written by David Frederick

September 18, 2009 at 1:06 PM

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