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Dear SftP Colleagues:

Do you eat, wear clothes, get medical care, or drink water? Then nanotoxicology is a topic you'll want to learn more about.

With almost no media attention, nanotechnology products are here. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale, the nanometer scale, to produce new structures, materials, and devices literally invisible to the eye. However, even nanotechnology companies themselves say that research on nanotechnology is not keeping up with its commercial uses. And toxicological studies can't keep up with the fountain newly-engineered materials.

It's a precarious human situation, one that has recently launched (March 2007) an entire journal, NanoEthics, to the study of issues surrounding nanotechnology (http://www.springerlink.com/content/l487x35145620454/). Research proceeds apace. For a view of who's doing nano in the U.S., see http://www.nanotechproject.org/121/nanonetro-story . For FAQs see http://es.epa.gov/ncer/nano/questions/index.html.  For an overview of government nano initiatives, see http://www.nano.gov/ .

Human Toxicology

Nanoparticle products are being produced for human use in the face of the scariest toxicology reports you'll ever see. Biopathways include ocular, follicular, dermal, inhalation, oral...there is no part of the body that nanoparticles can't penetrate (see http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/7339/7339.html#4). Inhaled nanoparticles collect in the nasal cavity, aveoli, heart, liver, and the olfactory bulb (see http://www.nanolawreport.com/2007/07/articles/nanoparticle-penetration-into-hair-follicles/). Exposure to ambient nanoparticles has been associated with respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease,  immunosuppression, and allergic responses. Nanoparticles can easily enter cells (see http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2007/apr/science/lt_nano.html) and pass the blood-brain barrier in neuronal uptake (see http://www.technologyreview.com/Nanotech/16895/). Once in the body, they bioaccumulate and clearing processes are not well known. The environmental fate of 
manufactured nanoparticles is considered an emerging environmental concern by the USGS (http://water.usgs.gov/wrri/07grants/2007MA73B.html), mostly because of products used outdoors (http://www.crystalbling.com.au/Home%20Page.html) and nanoparticles used to filter water or bioremediate other toxins.

Consumer Products

Nanotech products are the fastest growth technology and the recipient of some massive federal research funding (see http://www.nano.gov/html/res/IntlFundingRoco.htm). Manufacturers are jumping to incorporate nanotech, but no MSDS sheets exist for nanoparticles as of this date (see also http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/position.html for more on worker health).

Consumers are also not protected and not informed. The U.S. EPA announced in November 2006 that it would begin regulating consumer items made with nanoparticles of silver as a pesticide (washing machines), the first time the agency has regulated any nanomaterial. But within weeks, manufacturers changed their advertising to omit the mention of "nanosilver" and lobbied hard to declassify silver nanoparticles as a pesticide (see http://nanopublic.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html). Why? If consumers actually read even 1 of the thousands of articles about nanotoxicology since the 1990s, there'd be widespread panic well before widespread understanding.

Public Awareness Low

If the nanoscale materials were so useful AND safe, why haven't they been advertised like the next hot thing? Because they don't want us to know they are using extremely toxic unregulated substances on your children's clothes, your sunscreen, your wrinkle-free pants, your sheets, vitamin sprays, toothpaste, and food containers. See list of 500+ currently tracked nano products at: http://www.nanotechproject.org/index.php?id=44&action=intro .

Nanotechnology centers establish communications programs to research public perceptions and different methods to communicate nanotechnology. For one study, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=17442455&dopt=Abstractjournal%20appetite . Research center-funded museums are already set up to familiarize children with the nanoscale (see http://mrsec.wisc.edu/Edetc/).

No Product Labeling

At present, there is no requirement in the U.S. for labelling of nanotechnology products. The FDA website for food safety (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/) has no menu choices for nanotechnology, making consumer information very hard to find. The EPA just released guidance for an industry voluntary stewardship program" on toxicology. The EPA also does not expect, however, that all nanoscale substances will qualify as new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act, although nanoscale particles of the identical chemical act completely different than larger sizes. Scale truly matters here. (see http://epa.gov/oppt/nano/). 

All the while, products and processes containing nanoparticles are already on your store shelves and possibly in your closet or kitchen. Media attention has been very low, and basically concentrated in cities with research univerisites (see http://chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/4919584.html where Rice University is, a large nano center see http://cnst.rice.edu/whatwedo.cfm). All nanotechnology centers have an 'educational' component that "supports educational initiatives from the kindergarten to the professional level" and such initiatives include large "educational" outreach about the promise of nanotechnology with little emphasis on toxicology or worker protection.

Learn More

To summarize, research has not kept pace with products, and toxicology has not been communicated well. Nano may have its uses, but too little is known about its fate, transport, and human effects. 

So, dear colleagues, I urge you to read the links above, do more research, and consider nanotechnology in your life. Tell your parter or spouse when shopping to avoid labeling and advertising that contains "nano" but also to look for keywords such as: polymer capsule, ZCote, ZnO (zinc nanoxide), SilCryst, self-assembling films, reactive thin films, quantum dots, SilverSure, anti-bacterial, catalyst coating, anti-static, anti-wrinkle, nanocapsules, reacted hybrid carbon, crystalline surfactants, biodegradable polymers, and more.

Women Especially Vulnerable

Consider ocular transmission of nanoparticles (http://tech2transfer.com/technoligence/news_march/warehouse.htm). Then view this manufacturer's advertisement for lens defogger (http://www.nanofilmtechnology.com/products_name/clarity-defog-it.htm). A zinc nanoxide sunscreen on mommy may be harmless unless your child rubs their mouth in it. No intensive work is being performed in consumer safety of nanotech products (see FDA, CDC, EPA). The few articles that have come out (Consumer Reports) or symposia (http://www.intertechusa.com/conferences/conferenceDetail.aspx?displayDetail=overview&WCID=202) have not fully explained the nanotech picture in terms the public can truly understand. There is no profit in explaining. To date, I have found no article in any popular women's magazine that mentions nanotech particles in cosmetics, lotions, baby products, clothing, linens, food containers, socks, shoes, coats, hair products, spa products, .

~Melanie McCalmont
Disclaimer: The above text is my own research and opinions.

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"Reviewing the Environmental and Human Health Knowledge Base of Carbon Nanotubes"
http://www.ehponline.org/members/2007/9652/9652.html

ABSTRACT:

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are considered one of the most promising materials in nanotechnology, with attractive properties for many technologic applications. The different synthesis, purification, and postprocessing methods produce CNTs with different physical characteristics, which can be applied in different fields ranging from composite materials, medical applications, and electronics to energy storage. The widespread projected use of CNTs makes it important to understand their potential harmful effects. In this environmental health review we observed a remarkable range of results of some of the toxicology studies. The comparability should be improved by further standardization and introduction of reference materials. However, at present the findings of this review suggest several key points: a) there are different types of CNTs, and therefore they cannot be considered a uniform group of substances ; and b) in environmental compartments, CNTs can be bioavailable to organism
s. The properties of CNTs suggest a possible accumulation along the food chain and high persistence. In organisms the absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity of CNTs depend on the inherent physical and chemical characteristics such as CNT functionalization, coating, length, and agglomeration state that are influenced by the external environmental conditions during CNT production, use, and disposal stages. Characterized exposure scenarios could therefore be useful when conducting toxicologic studies. However, CNTs produce a toxic response upon reaching the lungs in sufficient quantity ; this reaction is produced in a time- and dose-dependent manner. The identification of possible risks to human health and environment is a prerequisite for a successful introduction of CNTs in future applications. Key words: carbon nanotubes, cytotoxicology, ecotoxicology, environment, environmental fate, human health, in vitro, in vivo, nanomaterials, nanotechnology, nanot
oxicology. Environ Health Perspect 115:11251131 (2007) . doi:10.1289/ehp.9652 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 10 May 2007]