Category Archives: risk

Sustainable Nanotechnologies (SUN) project draws to a close in March 2017

Two Oct. 31, 2016 news item on Nanowerk signal the impending sunset date for the European Union’s Sustainable Nanotechnologies (SUN) project. The first Oct. 31, 2016 news item on Nanowerk describes the projects latest achievements,

The results from the 3rd SUN annual meeting showed great advancement of the project. The meeting was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK on 4-5 October 2016 where the project partners presented the results obtained during the second reporting period of the project.

SUN is a three and a half year EU project, running from 2013 to 2017, with a budget of about €14 million. Its main goal is to evaluate the risks along the supply chain of engineered nanomaterials and incorporate the results into tools and guidelines for sustainable manufacturing.

The ultimate goal of the SUN Project is the development of an online software Decision Support System – SUNDS – aimed at estimating and managing occupational, consumer, environmental and public health risks from nanomaterials in real industrial products along their lifecycles. The SUNDS beta prototype has been released last October, 2015, and since then the main focus has been on refining the methodologies and testing them on selected case studies i.e. nano-copper oxide based wood preserving paint and nano- sized colourants for plastic car part: organic pigment and carbon black. Obtained results and open issues were discussed during the third annual meeting in order collect feedbacks from the consortium that will inform, in the next months, the implementation of the final version of the SUNDS software system, due by March 2017.

An Oct. 27, 2016 SUN project press release, which originated the news item, adds more information,

Significant interest has been payed towards the results obtained in WP2 (Lifecycle Thinking) which main objectives are to assess the environmental impacts arising from each life cycle stage of the SUN case studies (i.e. Nano-WC-Cobalt (Tungsten Carbide-cobalt) sintered ceramics, Nanocopper wood preservatives, Carbon Nano Tube (CNT) in plastics, Silicon Dioxide (SiO2) as food additive, Nano-Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) air filter system, Organic pigment in plastics and Nanosilver (Ag) in textiles), and compare them to conventional products with similar uses and functionality, in order to develop and validate criteria and guiding principles for green nano-manufacturing. Specifically, the consortium partner COLOROBBIA CONSULTING S.r.l. expressed its willingness to exploit the results obtained from the life cycle assessment analysis related to nanoTiO2 in their industrial applications.

On 6th October [2016], the discussions about the SUNDS advancement continued during a Stakeholder Workshop, where representatives from industry, regulatory and insurance sectors shared their feedback on the use of the decision support system. The recommendations collected during the workshop will be used for the further refinement and implemented in the final version of the software which will be released by March 2017.

The second Oct. 31, 2016 news item on Nanowerk led me to this Oct. 27, 2016 SUN project press release about the activities in the upcoming final months,

The project has designed its final events to serve as an effective platform to communicate the main results achieved in its course within the Nanosafety community and bridge them to a wider audience addressing the emerging risks of Key Enabling Technologies (KETs).

The series of events include the New Tools and Approaches for Nanomaterial Safety Assessment: A joint conference organized by NANOSOLUTIONS, SUN, NanoMILE, GUIDEnano and eNanoMapper to be held on 7 – 9 February 2017 in Malaga, Spain, the SUN-CaLIBRAte Stakeholders workshop to be held on 28 February – 1 March 2017 in Venice, Italy and the SRA Policy Forum: Risk Governance for Key Enabling Technologies to be held on 1- 3 March in Venice, Italy.

Jointly organized by the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) and the SUN Project, the SRA Policy Forum will address current efforts put towards refining the risk governance of emerging technologies through the integration of traditional risk analytic tools alongside considerations of social and economic concerns. The parallel sessions will be organized in 4 tracks:  Risk analysis of engineered nanomaterials along product lifecycle, Risks and benefits of emerging technologies used in medical applications, Challenges of governing SynBio and Biotech, and Methods and tools for risk governance.

The SRA Policy Forum has announced its speakers and preliminary Programme. Confirmed speakers include:

  • Keld Alstrup Jensen (National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Denmark)
  • Elke Anklam (European Commission, Belgium)
  • Adam Arkin (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
  • Phil Demokritou (Harvard University, USA)
  • Gerard Escher (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)
  • Lisa Friedersdor (National Nanotechnology Initiative, USA)
  • James Lambert (President, Society for Risk Analysis, USA)
  • Andre Nel (The University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
  • Bernd Nowack (EMPA, Switzerland)
  • Ortwin Renn (University of Stuttgart, Germany)
  • Vicki Stone (Heriot-Watt University, UK)
  • Theo Vermeire (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Netherlands)
  • Tom van Teunenbroek (Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, The Netherlands)
  • Wendel Wohlleben (BASF, Germany)

The New Tools and Approaches for Nanomaterial Safety Assessment (NMSA) conference aims at presenting the main results achieved in the course of the organizing projects fostering a discussion about their impact in the nanosafety field and possibilities for future research programmes.  The conference welcomes consortium partners, as well as representatives from other EU projects, industry, government, civil society and media. Accordingly, the conference topics include: Hazard assessment along the life cycle of nano-enabled products, Exposure assessment along the life cycle of nano-enabled products, Risk assessment & management, Systems biology approaches in nanosafety, Categorization & grouping of nanomaterials, Nanosafety infrastructure, Safe by design. The NMSA conference key note speakers include:

  • Harri Alenius (University of Helsinki, Finland,)
  • Antonio Marcomini (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy)
  • Wendel Wohlleben (BASF, Germany)
  • Danail Hristozov (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy)
  • Eva Valsami-Jones (University of Birmingham, UK)
  • Socorro Vázquez-Campos (LEITAT Technolоgical Center, Spain)
  • Barry Hardy (Douglas Connect GmbH, Switzerland)
  • Egon Willighagen (Maastricht University, Netherlands)
  • Nina Jeliazkova (IDEAconsult Ltd., Bulgaria)
  • Haralambos Sarimveis (The National Technical University of Athens, Greece)

During the SUN-caLIBRAte Stakeholder workshop the final version of the SUN user-friendly, software-based Decision Support System (SUNDS) for managing the environmental, economic and social impacts of nanotechnologies will be presented and discussed with its end users: industries, regulators and insurance sector representatives. The results from the discussion will be used as a foundation of the development of the caLIBRAte’s Risk Governance framework for assessment and management of human and environmental risks of MN and MN-enabled products.

The SRA Policy Forum: Risk Governance for Key Enabling Technologies and the New Tools and Approaches for Nanomaterial Safety Assessment conference are now open for registration. Abstracts for the SRA Policy Forum can be submitted till 15th November 2016.
For further information go to:

There you have it.

The volatile lithium-ion battery

On the heels of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 recall due to fires (see Alex Fitzpatrick’s Sept. 9, 2016 article for Time magazine for a good description of lithium-ion batteries and why they catch fire; see my May 29, 2013 posting on lithium-ion batteries, fires [including the airplane fires], and nanotechnology risk assessments), there’s new research on lithium-ion batteries and fires from China. From an Oct. 21, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Dozens of dangerous gases are produced by the batteries found in billions of consumer devices, like smartphones and tablets, according to a new study. The research, published in Nano Energy, identified more than 100 toxic gases released by lithium batteries, including carbon monoxide.

An Oct. 20, 2016 Elsevier Publishing press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The gases are potentially fatal, they can cause strong irritations to the skin, eyes and nasal passages, and harm the wider environment. The researchers behind the study, from the Institute of NBC Defence and Tsinghua University in China, say many people may be unaware of the dangers of overheating, damaging or using a disreputable charger for their rechargeable devices.

In the new study, the researchers investigated a type of rechargeable battery, known as a “lithium-ion” battery, which is placed in two billion consumer devices every year.

“Nowadays, lithium-ion batteries are being actively promoted by many governments all over the world as a viable energy solution to power everything from electric vehicles to mobile devices. The lithium-ion battery is used by millions of families, so it is imperative that the general public understand the risks behind this energy source,” explained Dr. Jie Sun, lead author and professor at the Institute of NBC Defence.

The dangers of exploding batteries have led manufacturers to recall millions of devices: Dell recalled four million laptops in 2006 and millions of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices were recalled this month after reports of battery fires. But the threats posed by toxic gas emissions and the source of these emissions are not well understood.

Dr. Sun and her colleagues identified several factors that can cause an increase in the concentration of the toxic gases emitted. A fully charged battery will release more toxic gases than a battery with 50 percent charge, for example. The chemicals contained in the batteries and their capacity to release charge also affected the concentrations and types of toxic gases released.

Identifying the gases produced and the reasons for their emission gives manufacturers a better understanding of how to reduce toxic emissions and protect the wider public, as lithium-ion batteries are used in a wide range of environments.

“Such dangerous substances, in particular carbon monoxide, have the potential to cause serious harm within a short period of time if they leak inside a small, sealed environment, such as the interior of a car or an airplane compartment,” Dr. Sun said.

Almost 20,000 lithium-ion batteries were heated to the point of combustion in the study, causing most devices to explode and all to emit a range of toxic gases. Batteries can be exposed to such temperature extremes in the real world, for example, if the battery overheats or is damaged in some way.

The researchers now plan to develop this detection technique to improve the safety of lithium-ion batteries so they can be used to power the electric vehicles of the future safely.

“We hope this research will allow the lithium-ion battery industry and electric vehicle sector to continue to expand and develop with a greater understanding of the potential hazards and ways to combat these issues,” Sun concluded.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Toxicity, a serious concern of thermal runaway from commercial Li-ion battery by Jie Sun, Jigang Li, Tian Zhou, Kai Yang, Shouping Wei, Na Tang, Nannan Dang, Hong Li, Xinping Qiu, Liquan Chend. Nano Energy Volume 27, September 2016, Pages 313–319

This paper appears to be open access.

Theoretical tool for understanding the fate of nano- and microplastic in rivers

An Oct. 17, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announced work being accomplished at Wageningen University (Netherlands),

Very tiny plastic particles of micro and nano size are difficult to measure in the environment to assess exposure risks. Researchers of Wageningen University & Research now provide the first mechanistic modelling study on the behaviour and fate of nano- and microplastic in surface waters.

Plastic debris has been detected in the oceans, in soils, sediments and surface waters worldwide. Emissions are expected to increase by an order of magnitude in the coming years. Fragmentation leads to smaller and smaller particles, eventually reaching the submicron scale. At these very small sizes, plastic particles may pose unforeseen risks. Yet they are hard to measure in the environment so that exposure assessments have to rely on modelling.

Wageningen researcher Ellen Besseling: “We already knew that microplastics are transported in rivers and can reach the sediment, potentially affecting aquatic life. Now we have a theoretical tool that helps us to understand why/how this happens and that helps us to explain what we see. This is important in order to design mitigation strategies for plastic debris of all sizes, and to predict emissions of plastics to our oceans.”

An Oct. 17, 2016 Wageningen University & Research press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

In their recent pioneering study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, Ellen Besseling and co-workers simulate the concentrations of plastic particles between 100 nm up to 10 mm for the hydrological flow regime of a real river. The model accounted for direct transport of the particles, but also for aggregation of the particles with natural suspended solids, and the transport and settling of the resulting so-called heteroaggregates. The model also accounted for the presence of biofilm on the plastics, and model scenarios were calculated for plastics of different density. “This provides very insightful results on where in the river bed the ‘hot spot’ locations for presence of nano- and microplastic can be expected,” says project leader Prof Bart Koelmans. No earlier models accounted for all of these processes, and some counterintuitive results were obtained. Settling to the sediment for instance, was important for nano- and microplastics smaller than one micrometer due to settling of aggregates, and for plastic particles bigger than fifty micrometer due to direct settling, but much less for sizes in between. This means that these particles are expected to be exported to sea to a larger extent.

Attachment efficiency
A key parameter in the model is the attachment efficiency, which is the chance that a colliding plastic and natural solid particle actually stick together. Because this parameter was not known, literature values were used taking non-polymer nanoparticles as a proxy for microplastic. These values, however, were used in combination with – also for the first time – new measured values for actual nano- and microplastics. These experimental data for aggregation of nano- and microplastic with suspended particles in natural freshwater appeared to fairly agree to the literature data. Whereas these first results are promising, the research team emphasizes that more research is needed to study the aggregation behaviour of nano- an microplastic in fresh and marine waters.

Risk assessment of plastic debris
The problem of plastic debris is high on the agenda of policymakers and the public, and society calls for an assessment of the risks of plastic debris to man and the environment. A risk assessment for nano- and microplastic requires an assessment of exposure, and of the effects caused by plastics, which then can be compared in a characterisation of actual risks for man and the environment. As long as analytical methods to detect plastic particles are still under construction, models provide invaluable tools to assess exposure to plastic of all sizes. Models can also be used to design monitoring networks and optimize sampling strategies by indicating ‘hot spot’ locations based on first principles. At Wageningen University & Research, several projects aim to develop tools for the risk assessment of plastic debris in marine as well as freshwaters, for instance the new STW-project TRAMP.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Fate of nano- and microplastic in freshwater systems: A modeling study by Ellen Besseling, Joris T.K. Quik, Muzhi Sun, Albert A. Koelmans. Environmental Pollution Available online 13 October 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Not enough silver nanoparticles in water supply to be harmful?

While the news of a low concentration of silver nanoparticles in the water supply seems good in the short term, one can’t help wondering what will happen as more of them end up in the our water. As for the news itself, here’s the announcement concerning a review of some 300 papers, from an Oct. 13, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Silver nanoparticles have a wide array of uses, one of which is to treat drinking water for harmful bacteria and viruses. But do silver nanoparticles also kill off potentially beneficial bacteria or cause other harmful effects to water-based ecosystems? A new paper from a team of University of Missouri College of Engineering researchers says that’s not the case.

An Oct. 12, 2016 University of Missouri news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme (Note: Links have been removed),

In their paper, “Governing factors affecting the impacts of silver nanoparticles on wastewater treatment,” recently published in Science of the Total Environment, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department doctoral students Chiqian Zhang and Shashikanth Gajaraj and Department Chair and Professor Zhiqiang Hu worked with Ping Li of the South China University of Technology to analyze the results of approximately 300 published works on the subject of silver nanoparticles and wastewater. What they found was while silver nanoparticles can have moderately or even significantly adverse effects in large concentrations, the amount of silver nanoparticles found in our wastewater at present isn’t harmful to humans or the ecosystem as a whole.

“If the concentration remains low, it’s not a serious problem,” Zhang said.

Silver nanoparticles are used in wastewater treatment and found increasingly in everyday products in order to combat bacteria. In terms of wastewater treatment, silver nanoparticles frequently react with sulfides in biosolids, vastly limiting their toxicity.

Zhang said many of the studies looked at high concentrations and added that if, over time, the concentration rose to much higher levels of several milligrams per liter or higher), toxicity could become a problem. But he explained that it would take decades or even longer potentially to get to that point.

“People evaluate the toxicity in a small-scale system,” he said. “But with water collection systems, much of the silver nanoparticles become silver sulfide and not be harmful.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the study,

Governing factors affecting the impacts of silver nanoparticles on wastewater treatment by Chiqian Zhang, Zhiqiang Hu, Ping Li, Shashikanth Gajaraj. Science of The Total Environment Available online 16 August 2016

This study is behind a paywall.

For the curious, I have a Feb. 28, 2013 posting where I contrasted two silver nanoparticle studies one of which found little risk and the other which raised serious concerns. Scroll down about about 60% of the way for the ‘cautionary’ study.

Personally, I’m inclined to agree silver nanoparticles are not an immediate concern but since no one knows what the tipping point might be, now would be a good time to get serious about research, policies, and regulation.

Mimicking rain and sun to test plastic for nanoparticle release

One of Canada’s nanotechnology experts once informed a House of Commons Committee on Health that nanoparticles encased in plastic (he was talking about cell phones) weren’t likely to harm you except in two circumstances (when workers were using them in the manufacturing process and when the product was being disposed of). Apparently, under some circumstances, that isn’t true any more. From a Sept. 30, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

If the 1967 film “The Graduate” were remade today, Mr. McGuire’s famous advice to young Benjamin Braddock would probably be updated to “Plastics … with nanoparticles.” These days, the mechanical, electrical and durability properties of polymers—the class of materials that includes plastics—are often enhanced by adding miniature particles (smaller than 100 nanometers or billionths of a meter) made of elements such as silicon or silver. But could those nanoparticles be released into the environment after the polymers are exposed to years of sun and water—and if so, what might be the health and ecological consequences?

A Sept. 30, 2016 US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) news release, which originated the news item, describes how the research was conducted and its results (Note: Links have been removed),

In a recently published paper (link is external), researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describe how they subjected a commercial nanoparticle-infused coating to NIST-developed methods for accelerating the effects of weathering from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and simulated washings of rainwater. Their results indicate that humidity and exposure time are contributing factors for nanoparticle release, findings that may be useful in designing future studies to determine potential impacts.

In their recent experiment, the researchers exposed multiple samples of a commercially available polyurethane coating containing silicon dioxide nanoparticles to intense UV radiation for 100 days inside the NIST SPHERE (Simulated Photodegradation via High-Energy Radiant Exposure), a hollow, 2-meter (7-foot) diameter black aluminum chamber lined with highly UV reflective material that bears a casual resemblance to the Death Star in the film “Star Wars.” For this study, one day in the SPHERE was equivalent to 10 to 15 days outdoors. All samples were weathered at a constant temperature of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) with one group done in extremely dry conditions (approximately 0 percent humidity) and the other in humid conditions (75 percent humidity).

To determine if any nanoparticles were released from the polymer coating during UV exposure, the researchers used a technique they created and dubbed “NIST simulated rain.” Filtered water was converted into tiny droplets, sprayed under pressure onto the individual samples, and then the runoff—with any loose nanoparticles—was collected in a bottle. This procedure was conducted at the beginning of the UV exposure, at every two weeks during the weathering run and at the end. All of the runoff fluids were then analyzed by NIST chemists for the presence of silicon and in what amounts. Additionally, the weathered coatings were examined with atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to reveal surface changes resulting from UV exposure.

Both sets of coating samples—those weathered in very low humidity and the others in very humid conditions—degraded but released only small amounts of nanoparticles. The researchers found that more silicon was recovered from the samples weathered in humid conditions and that nanoparticle release increased as the UV exposure time increased. Microscopic examination showed that deformations in the coating surface became more numerous with longer exposure time, and that nanoparticles left behind after the coating degraded often bound together in clusters.

“These data, and the data from future experiments of this type, are valuable for developing computer models to predict the long-term release of nanoparticles from commercial coatings used outdoors, and in turn, help manufacturers, regulatory officials and others assess any health and environmental impacts from them,” said NIST research chemist Deborah Jacobs, lead author on the study published in the Journal of Coatings Technology and Research (link is external).

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Surface degradation and nanoparticle release of a commercial nanosilica/polyurethane coating under UV exposure by Deborah S. Jacobs, Sin-Ru Huang, Yu-Lun Cheng, Savelas A. Rabb, Justin M. Gorham, Peter J. Krommenhoek, Lee L. Yu, Tinh Nguyen, Lipiin Sung. J Coat Technol Res (2016) 13: 735. doi:10.1007/s11998-016-9796-2 First published online 13 July 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone interested in the details about the House of Commons nano story I told at the start of this post, here’s the June 23, 2010 posting where I summarized the hearing on nanotechnology. If you scroll down about 50% of the way, you’ll find Dr. Nils Petersen’s (then director of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology) comments about nanoparticles being encased. The topic had been nanosunscreens and he was describing the conditions under which he believed nanoparticles could be dangerous.

Nanosunscreen in swimming pools

Thanks to Lynn L. Bergeson’s Sept. 21, 2016 posting for information about the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) research into what happens to the nanoparticles when your nanosunscreen washes off into a swimming pool. Bergeson’s post points to an Aug. 15, 2016 EPA blog posting by Susanna Blair,

… It’s not surprising that sunscreens are detected in pool water (after all, some is bound to wash off when we take a dip), but certain sunscreens have also been widely detected in our ecosystems and in our wastewater. So how is our sunscreen ending up in our environment and what are the impacts?

Well, EPA researchers are working to better understand this issue, specifically investigating sunscreens that contain engineered nanomaterials and how they might change when exposed to the chemicals in pool water [open access paper but you need to register for free] … But before I delve into that, let’s talk a bit about sunscreen chemistry and nanomaterials….

Blair goes on to provide a good brief description of  nanosunscreens before moving onto her main topic,

Many sunscreens contain titanium dioxide (TiO2) because it absorbs UV radiation, preventing it from damaging our skin. But titanium dioxide decomposes into other molecules when in the presence of water and UV radiation. This is important because one of the new molecules produced is called a singlet oxygen reactive oxygen species. These reactive oxygen species have been shown to cause extensive cell damage and even cell death in plants and animals. To shield skin from reactive oxygen species, titanium dioxide engineered nanomaterials are often coated with other materials such as aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3).

EPA researchers are testing to see whether swimming pool water degrades the aluminum hydroxide coating, and if the extent of this degradation is enough to allow the production of potentially harmful reactive oxygen species. In this study, the coated titanium dioxide engineered nanomaterials were exposed to pool water for time intervals ranging from 45 minutes to 14 days, followed by imaging using an electron microscope.  Results show that after 3 days, pool water caused the aluminum hydroxide coating to degrade, which can reduce the coating’s protective properties and increase the potential toxicity.  To be clear, even with degraded coating, the toxicity measured from the coated titanium dioxide, was significantly less [emphasis mine] than the uncoated material. So in the short-term – in the amount of time one might wear sunscreen before bathing and washing it off — these sunscreens still provide life-saving protection against UV radiation. However, the sunscreen chemicals will remain in the environment considerably longer, and continue to degrade as they are exposed to other things.

Blair finishes by explaining that research is continuing as the EPA researches the whole life cycle of engineered nanomaterials.

Breathing nanoparticles into your brain

Thanks to Dexter Johnson and his Sept. 8, 2016 posting (on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) for bringing this news about nanoparticles in the brain to my attention (Note: Links have been removed),

An international team of researchers, led by Barbara Maher, a professor at Lancaster University, in England, has found evidence that suggests that the nanoparticles that were first detected in the human brain over 20 years ago may have an external rather an internal source.

These magnetite nanoparticles are an airborne particulate that are abundant in urban environments and formed by combustion or friction-derived heating. In other words, they have been part of the pollution in the air of our cities since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

However, according to Andrew Maynard, a professor at Arizona State University, and a noted expert on the risks associated with nanomaterials,  the research indicates that this finding extends beyond magnetite to any airborne nanoscale particles—including those deliberately manufactured.

“The findings further support the possibility of these particles entering the brain via the olfactory nerve if inhaled.  In this respect, they are certainly relevant to our understanding of the possible risks presented by engineered nanomaterials—especially those that are iron-based and have magnetic properties,” said Maynard in an e-mail interview with IEEE Spectrum. “However, ambient exposures to airborne nanoparticles will typically be much higher than those associated with engineered nanoparticles, simply because engineered nanoparticles will usually be manufactured and handled under conditions designed to avoid release and exposure.”

A Sept. 5, 2016 University of Lancaster press release made the research announcement,

Researchers at Lancaster University found abundant magnetite nanoparticles in the brain tissue from 37 individuals aged three to 92-years-old who lived in Mexico City and Manchester. This strongly magnetic mineral is toxic and has been implicated in the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the human brain, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Barbara Maher, from Lancaster Environment Centre, and colleagues (from Oxford, Glasgow, Manchester and Mexico City) used spectroscopic analysis to identify the particles as magnetite. Unlike angular magnetite particles that are believed to form naturally within the brain, most of the observed particles were spherical, with diameters up to 150 nm, some with fused surfaces, all characteristic of high-temperature formation – such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines or open fires.

The spherical particles are often accompanied by nanoparticles containing other metals, such as platinum, nickel, and cobalt.

Professor Maher said: “The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”

Other sources of magnetite nanoparticles include open fires and poorly sealed stoves within homes. Particles smaller than 200 nm are small enough to enter the brain directly through the olfactory nerve after breathing air pollution through the nose.

“Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” added Professor Maher.

Leading Alzheimer’s researcher Professor David Allsop, of Lancaster University’s Faculty of Health and Medicine, said: “This finding opens up a whole new avenue for research into a possible environmental risk factor for a range of different brain diseases.”

Damian Carrington’s Sept. 5, 2016 article for the Guardian provides a few more details,

“They [the troubling magnetite particles] are abundant,” she [Maher] said. “For every one of [the crystal shaped particles] we saw about 100 of the pollution particles. The thing about magnetite is it is everywhere.” An analysis of roadside air in Lancaster found 200m magnetite particles per cubic metre.

Other scientists told the Guardian the new work provided strong evidence that most of the magnetite in the brain samples come from air pollution but that the link to Alzheimer’s disease remained speculative.

For anyone who might be concerned about health risks, there’s this from Andrew Maynard’s comments in Dexter Johnson’s Sept. 8, 2016 posting,

“In most workplaces, exposure to intentionally made nanoparticles is likely be small compared to ambient nanoparticles, and so it’s reasonable to assume—at least without further data—that this isn’t a priority concern for engineered nanomaterial production,” said Maynard.

While deliberate nanoscale manufacturing may not carry much risk, Maynard does believe that the research raises serious questions about other manufacturing processes where exposure to high concentrations of airborne nanoscale iron particles is common—such as welding, gouging, or working with molten ore and steel.

It seems everyone is agreed that the findings are concerning but I think it might be good to remember that the percentage of people who develop Alzheimer’s Disease is much smaller than the population of people who have crystals in their brains. In other words, these crystals might (they don’t know) be a factor and likely there would have to be one or more factors to create the condition for developing Alzheimer’s.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Magnetite pollution nanoparticles in the human brain by Barbara A. Maher, Imad A. M. Ahmed, Vassil Karloukovski, Donald A. MacLaren, Penelope G. Fouldsd, David Allsop, David M. A. Mann, Ricardo Torres-Jardón, and Lilian Calderon-Garciduenas. PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] doi: 10.1073/pnas.1605941113

This paper is behind a paywall but Dexter’s posting offers more detail for those who are still curious.

Mechanism behind interaction of silver nanoparticles with the cells of the immune system

Scientists have come to a better understanding of the mechanism affecting silver nanoparticle toxicity according to an Aug. 30, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

A senior fellow at the Faculty of Chemistry, MSU (Lomonosov Moscow State University), Vladimir Bochenkov together with his colleagues from Denmark succeeded in deciphering the mechanism of interaction of silver nanoparticles with the cells of the immune system. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications (“Dynamic protein coronas revealed as a modulator of silver nanoparticle sulphidation in vitro”).

‘Currently, a large number of products are containing silver nanoparticles: antibacterial drugs, toothpaste, polishes, paints, filters, packaging, medical and textile items. The functioning of these products lies in the capacity of silver to dissolve under oxidation and form ions Ag+ with germicidal properties. At the same time there are research data in vitro, showing the silver nanoparticles toxicity for various organs, including the liver, brain and lungs. In this regard, it is essential to study the processes occurring with silver nanoparticles in biological environments, and the factors affecting their toxicity,’ says Vladimir Bochenkov.

Caption: Increased intensity of the electric field near the silver nanoparticle surface in the excitation of plasmon resonance. Credit: Vladimir Bochenkov

Caption: Increased intensity of the electric field near the silver nanoparticle surface in the excitation of plasmon resonance. Credit: Vladimir Bochenkov

An Aug. 30, 2016 MSU press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more information about the research,

The study is devoted to the protein corona — a layer of adsorbed protein molecules, which is formed on the surface of the silver nanoparticles during their contact with the biological environment, for example in blood. Protein crown masks nanoparticles and largely determines their fate: the speed of the elimination from the body, the ability to penetrate to a particular cell type, the distribution between the organs, etc.

According to the latest research, the protein corona consists of two layers: a rigid hard corona — protein molecules tightly bound with silver nanoparticles, and soft corona, consisting of weakly bound protein molecules in a dynamic equilibrium with the solution. Hitherto soft corona has been studied very little because of the experimental difficulties: the weakly bound nanoparticles separated from the protein solution easily desorbed (leave a particle remaining in the solution), leaving only the rigid corona on the nanoparticle surface.

The size of the studied silver nanoparticles was of 50-88 nm, and the diameter of the proteins that made up the crown — 3-7 nm. Scientists managed to study the silver nanoparticles with the protein corona in situ, not removing them from the biological environment. Due to the localized surface plasmon resonance used for probing the environment near the surface of the silver nanoparticles, the functions of the soft corona have been primarily investigated.

‘In the work we showed that the corona may affect the ability of the nanoparticles to dissolve to silver cations Ag+, which determine the toxic effect. In the absence of a soft corona (quickly sharing the medium protein layer with the environment) silver cations are associated with the sulfur-containing amino acids in serum medium, particularly cysteine and methionine, and precipitate as nanocrystals Ag2S in the hard corona,’ says Vladimir Bochenkov.

Ag2S (silver sulfide) famously easily forms on the silver surface even on the air in the presence of the hydrogen sulfide traces. Sulfur is also part of many biomolecules contained in the body, provoking the silver to react and be converted into sulfide. Forming of the nano-crystals Ag2S due to low solubility reduces the bioavailability of the Ag+ ions, reducing the toxicity of silver nanoparticles to null. With a sufficient amount of amino acid sulfur sources available for reaction, all the potentially toxic silver is converted into the nontoxic insoluble sulfide. Scientists have shown that what happens in the absence of a soft corona.

In the presence of a soft corona, the Ag2S silver sulfide nanocrystals are formed in smaller quantities or not formed at all. Scientists attribute this to the fact that the weakly bound protein molecules transfer the Ag+ ions from nanoparticles into the solution, thereby leaving the sulfide not crystallized. Thus, the soft corona proteins are ‘vehicles’ for the silver ions.

This effect, scientists believe, be taken into account when analyzing the stability of silver nanoparticles in a protein environment, and in interpreting the results of the toxicity studies. Studies of the cells viability of the immune system (J774 murine line macrophages) confirmed the reduction in cell toxicity of silver nanoparticles at the sulfidation (in the absence of a soft corona).

Vladimir Bochenkov’s challenge was to simulate the plasmon resonance spectra of the studied systems and to create the theoretical model that allowed quantitative determination of silver sulfide content in situ around nanoparticles, following the change in the absorption bands in the experimental spectra. Since the frequency of the plasmon resonance is sensitive to a change in dielectric constant near the nanoparticle surface, changes in the absorption spectra contain information about the amount of silver sulfide formed.

Knowledge of the mechanisms of formation and dynamics of the behavior of the protein corona, information about its composition and structure are extremely important for understanding the toxicity and hazards of nanoparticles for the human body. In prospect the protein corona formation can be used to deliver drugs in the body, including the treatment of cancer. For this purpose it will be enough to pick such a content of the protein corona, which enables silver nanoparticles penetrate only in the cancer cell and kill it.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper describing this fascinating work,

Dynamic protein coronas revealed as a modulator of silver nanoparticle sulphidation in vitro by Teodora Miclăuş, Christiane Beer, Jacques Chevallier, Carsten Scavenius, Vladimir E. Bochenkov, Jan J. Enghild, & Duncan S. Sutherland. Nature Communications 7,
Article number: 11770 doi:10.1038/ncomms11770 Published  09 June 2016

This paper is open access.

Harvard University announced new Center on Nano-safety Research

The nano safety center at Harvard University (Massachusetts, US) is a joint center with the US National Institute of Environmental Health  Sciences according to an Aug. 29, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs)—which are less than 100 nanometers (one millionth of a millimeter) in diameter—can make the colors in digital printer inks pop and help sunscreens better protect against radiation, among many other applications in industry and science. They may even help prevent infectious diseases. But as the technology becomes more widespread, questions remain about the potential risks that ENMs may pose to health and the environment.

Researchers at the new Harvard-NIEHS [US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences] Nanosafety Research Center at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are working to understand the unique properties of ENMs—both beneficial and harmful—and to ultimately establish safety standards for the field.

An Aug. 16, 2016 Harvard University press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

“We want to help nanotechnology develop as a scientific and economic force while maintaining safeguards for public health,” said Center Director Philip Demokritou, associate professor of aerosol physics at Harvard Chan School. “If you understand the rules of nanobiology, you can design safer nanomaterials.”

ENMs can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact, and toxicological studies have shown that some can penetrate cells and tissues and potentially cause biochemical damage. Because the field of nanoparticle science is relatively new, no standards currently exist for assessing the health risks of exposure to ENMs—or even for how studies of nano-biological interactions should be conducted.

Much of the work of the new Center will focus on building a fundamental understanding of why some ENMs are potentially more harmful than others. The team will also establish a “reference library” of ENMs, each with slightly varied properties, which will be utilized in nanotoxicology research across the country to assess safety. This will allow researchers to pinpoint exactly what aspect of an ENM’s properties may impact health. The researchers will also work to develop standardized methods for nanotoxicology studies evaluating the safety of nanomaterials.

The Center was established with a $4 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) last month, and is the only nanosafety research center to receive NIEHS funding for the next five years. It will also play a coordinating role with existing and future NIEHS nanotoxicology research projects nantionwide. Scientists from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), MIT, University of Maine, and University of Florida will collaborate on the new effort.

The Center builds on the existing Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at Harvard Chan School, established by Demokritou and Joseph Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, in the School’s Department of Environmental Health in 2010.

A July 5, 2016 Harvard University press release announcing the $4M grant provides more information about which ENMs are to be studied,

The main focus of the new HSPH-NIEHS Center is to bring together  scientists from across disciplines- material science, chemistry, exposure assessment, risk assessment, nanotoxicology and nanobiology- to assess the potential  environmental Health and safety (EHS) implications of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).

The $4 million dollar HSPH based Center  which is the only Nanosafety Research  Center to be funded by NIEHS this funding cycle, … The new HSPH-NIEHS Nanosafety Center builds upon the nano-related infrastructure in [the] collaborating Universities, developed over the past 10 years, which includes an inter-disciplinary research group of faculty, research staff and students, as well as state-of-the-art platforms for high throughput synthesis of ENMs, including metal and metal oxides, cutting edge 2D/3D ENMs such as CNTs [carbon nanotubes] and graphene, nanocellulose, and advanced nanocomposites, [emphasis mine] coupled with innovative tools to assess the fate and transport of ENMs in biological systems, statistical and exposure assessment tools, and novel in vitro and in vivo platforms for nanotoxicology research.

“Our mission is to integrate material/exposure/chemical sciences and nanotoxicology-nanobiology   to facilitate assessment of potential risks from emerging nanomaterials.  In doing so, we are bringing together the material synthesis/applications and nanotoxicology communities and other stakeholders including industry,   policy makers and the general public to maximize innovation and growth and minimize environmental and public health risks from nanotechnology”, quoted by  Dr Philip Demokritou, …

This effort certainly falls in line with the current emphasis on interdisciplinary research and creating standards and protocols for researching the toxicology of engineered nanomaterials.

Faster predictive toxicology of nanomaterials

As more nanotechnology-enabled products make their way to the market and concerns rise regarding safety, scientists work to find better ways of assessing and predicting the safety of these materials, from an Aug. 13, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] researchers have designed a laboratory test that uses microchip technology to predict how potentially hazardous nanomaterials could be.

According to UCLA professor Huan Meng, certain engineered nanomaterials, such as non-purified carbon nanotubes that are used to strengthen commercial products, could have the potential to injure the lungs if inhaled during the manufacturing process. The new test he helped develop could be used to analyze the extent of the potential hazard.

An Aug. 12, 2016 UCLA news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The same test could also be used to identify biological biomarkers that can help scientists and doctors detect cancer and infectious diseases. Currently, scientists identify those biomarkers using other tests; one of the most common is called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA. But the new platform, which is called semiconductor electronic label-free assay, or SELFA, costs less and is faster and more accurate, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study was led by Meng, a UCLA assistant adjunct professor of medicine, and Chi On Chui, a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering.

ELISA has been used by scientists for decades to analyze biological samples — for example, to detect whether epithelial cells in the lungs that have been exposed to nanomaterials are inflamed. But ELISA must be performed in a laboratory setting by skilled technicians, and a single test can cost roughly $700 and take five to seven days to process.

In contrast, SELFA uses microchip technology to analyze samples. The test can take between 30 minutes and two hours and, according to the UCLA researchers, could cost just a few dollars per sample when high-volume production begins.

The SELFA chip contains a T-shaped nanowire that acts as an integrated sensor and amplifier. To analyze a sample, scientists place it on a sensor on the chip. The vertical part of the T-shaped nanowire converts the current from the molecule being analyzed, and the horizontal portion amplifies that signal to distinguish the molecule from others.

The use of the T-shaped nanowires created in Chui’s lab is a new application of a UCLA patented invention that was developed by Chui and his colleagues. The device is the first time that “lab-on-a-chip” analysis has been tested in a scenario that mimics a real-life situation.

The UCLA scientists exposed cultured lung cells to different nanomaterials and then compared their results using SELFA with results in a database of previous studies that used other testing methods.

“By measuring biomarker concentrations in the cell culture, we showed that SELFA was 100 times more sensitive than ELISA,” Meng said. “This means that not only can SELFA analyze much smaller sample sizes, but also that it can minimize false-positive test results.”

Chui said, “The results are significant because SELFA measurement allows us to predict the inflammatory potential of a range of nanomaterials inside cells and validate the prediction with cellular imaging and experiments in animals’ lungs.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Semiconductor Electronic Label-Free Assay for Predictive Toxicology by Yufei Mao, Kyeong-Sik Shin, Xiang Wang, Zhaoxia Ji, Huan Meng, & Chi On Chui. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24982 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep24982 Published online: 27 April 2016

This paper is open access.