Nanoparticles carcinogenic? – “No data, no problems” say governments.

On March, 11 this year I reported on a study by and Georgia Miller and Rye Senjen, Out of the Laboratory and Onto our Plates, Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture, that posited that the science on the health and environmental effects of using these materials is at best limited and this in itself raises questions about the regulation of their use:

“Nanotechnology is being used in every sector of food production. Manufactured nanomaterials are already used in some food products, nutritional supplements, many packaging and food storage applications and some agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilisers and pesticides.)”

Not much was discussed in the mainstream media at the time but today the Scientific American reported on a new study led by the Queen’s Medical Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh/MRC Center for Inflammation Research (CIR) in Scotland, that found:

“Inhaling carbon nanotubes could be as harmful as breathing in asbestos, and its use should be regulated lest it lead to the same cancer and breathing problems that prompted a ban on the use of asbestos as insulation in buildings, according a new study posted online today by Nature Nanotechnology.”

This then, shows that the rolling out of products is coming ahead of studies on the potential hazards of these new technologies. These new particles are a danger not only to consumers ( who have no idea of their presence in the products that they buy) but also surely to the workers who produce the products containing these particles. The proliferation of products with unknown side effects and without regulation is unacceptable.

In fact, the article by Scientific American includes this disturbing passage:

“Scientists have been noting the similarities between carbon nanotubes and asbestos for the past few years, says study co-author Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars‘s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, based in Washington, D.C. Maynard, who has been researching and warning of the potential health and environmental risks of carbon nanotubes since 2003, says that there has been no coordinated effort to date to analyze the findings of carbon nanotube toxicity studies. He notes that technology companies have not found that the risks of using carbon nanotubes outweigh the benefits—they are excellent conductors of electricity.”

Of course technology companies and manufacturers have found that the benefits outweighs risks. After all they are making profits and they alone are privy to the risks. It has even been said that companies have been able to hide behind the term “patented technologies” so that they do not have to report the true nature of their product to the manufacturer or consumer. They have continued producing ahead of the science and obviously the maxim, “no data no problems” approach by governments has allowed them to produce goods first and patch up the dangers later, in this case too much later.

Both of the two studies quoted are essential reading for anyone who values their health and safety. As consumers it is time to ask for labelling that is transparent. It is disturbing that they are allowed to proliferate without adequate research into their efficacy and safety. Many life saving products have to undergo rigorous scrutiny, why are these new technologies allowed to be rolled out without adequate testing?

A sobering though is that some of the products already containing nanoparticles are: dairy products; cereals; breads and beverages are now fortified with vitamins, minerals such as iron, magnesium or zinc, probiotics, bioactive peptides, antioxidants, plant sterols and soy, and that some of these active ingredients are now being added to foods as nanoparticles or particles a few hundred nanometres in size. Now we can add sports equipment and sunscreens, what else?

Were you aware of there presence in the products you consume? If not please read the articles and inform your friends. As Andrew Maynard says:

“There is an immediate need to examine how carbon nanotubes are being used and see if there’s any chance that [people] are being exposed to dangerous materials,” Maynard says, adding that no one paid attention to the dangers of asbestos until it was too late for a lot of people.

PHOTO OF THE DAY: The Dome at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is framed by ridges of snow called sastrugi.
Ridges of snow callede sastrugi.

Photograph by: Bill McAfee, National Science Foundation. Date Taken: October 29, 2003.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Wednesday, 21 May, 2008.

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