Nanotechnology Could Be the New Asbestos

July 29, 2004, Trades Union Congress News

[Full report on nanotechnology and health and safety at]

The latest issue of the TUC backed Hazards magazine has
supported today's call from the Royal Society and Royal
Academy of Engineers for regulation of the booming
nanotechnology industry, particularly in the area of workers

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, said:

"This isn't an apocalyptic warning about 'nano-goo' or
renegade 'nano-robots' but a genuine concern for the safety
of staff breathing in and absorbing tiny, toxic particles.
Asbestos is still killing people 100 years on. We must learn
from this tragedy and ensure that a regulated nanotechnology
industry can make products that are useful and innovative but
safe to workers and consumers."

'Nanotechnology: what they don't know could hurt you',
featured in Hazards magazine (out today - likens the
growth of nanotechnology, the production or use of very small
particles, to a 21st Century gold rush. Hundreds of
nanotechnology based products (using particles one eighty
thousandth the width of a human hair) are already on the
market, from computer screens to self-cleaning windows, and
over 2 billion is being spent globally on research and
development. But health and safety law, in the UK and other
countries, does not protect workers in the nanotechnology
industry from health risks they may face, as it does for
other highly hazardous materials.

The TUC believes that the production and use of nanoparticles
should be carried out in a contained process so that
employees are not exposed to the potential health risks.

It is already known that 'ultra fine' particles, such as
those from diesel machines, power plants and incinerators,
can damage human lungs. Nanoparticles can also get into the
blood through the skin, digestive system, and lungs,
potentially causing cell damage. Research has shown that some
nanoparticles cause lung damage in rats and others lead to
brain damage in fish and dogs. Also, once in the blood
nanoparticles could cross the blood/brain barrier.

Rory O'Neill, Hazards Magazine Editor, said:

"The nanotech industry is the biggest thing since the
microchip, but has grown with scarcely a thought for the
potential occupational health risks. There have been plenty
of red flags, but the dollar signs have blotted out the
warnings signs.

"A huge new industry operating with little safety guidance is
a dangerous combination. The evidence we do have raises real
concerns about chronic health effects, the extent of which
might only become apparent in a generation."


- The full Hazards feature on nanotechnology is available at

- A TUC fact sheet on nanotechnology is available at: