Category Archives: risk

Frogs: monitoring them, finding new species, and research about the golden ones in Panama

I have three frog-oriented items and while they’re not strictly speaking in my usual range of topics, given this blog’s name and the fact I haven’t posted a frog piece in quite a while, it seems this is a good moment to address that lack.

Monitoring frogs and amphibians at Trent University (Ontario, Canada)

From a March 23, 2015 Trent University news release,

With the decline of amphibian populations around the world, a team of researchers led by Trent University’s Dr. Dennis Murray will seek to establish environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring of amphibian occupancy and aquatic ecosystem risk assessment with the help of a significant grant of over $596,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Awarded to Professor Murray, a Canada research chair in integrative wildlife conservation, bioinformatics, and ecological modelling and professor at Trent University along with colleagues Dr. Craig Brunetti of the Biology department, and Dr. Chris Kyle of the Forensic Science program, and partners at Laurentian University, University of Toronto, McGill University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Environment Canada, the grant will support the development of tools that will promote a cleaner aquatic environment.

The project will use amphibian DNA found in natural breeding habitats to determine the presence and abundance of amphibians as well as their pathogens. This new technology capitalizes on Trent University’s expertise and infrastructure in the areas of wildlife DNA and water quality.

“We’re honoured to have received the grant to help us drive the project forward,” said Prof. Murray. “Our plan is to place Canada, and Trent, in a leadership position with respect to aquatic wildlife monitoring and amphibian conservation.”

Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, yet in Canada, amphibian numbers are not monitored closely, meaning changes in their distribution or abundance may be unnoticeable. Amphibian monitoring in Canada is conducted by citizen scientists who record frog breeding calls when visiting bodies of water during the spring. However, the lack of formalized amphibian surveys leaves Canada in a vulnerable position regarding the status of its diverse amphibian community.

Prof. Murray believes that the protocols developed from this project could revolutionize how amphibian populations are monitored in Canada and in turn lead to new insights regarding the population trends for several amphibian species across the country.

Here’s more about NSERC and Trent University from the news release,

About NSERC

NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators. The agency supports almost 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding approximately 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging over 2,400 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.

The NSERC Strategic Project Grants aim to increase research and training in areas that could strongly influence Canada’s economy, society or environment in the next 10 years in four target areas: environmental science and technologies; information and communications technologies; manufacturing; and natural resources and energy.

About Trent University

One of Canada’s top universities, Trent University was founded on the ideal of interactive learning that’s personal, purposeful and transformative. Consistently recognized nationally for leadership in teaching, research and student satisfaction, Trent attracts excellent students from across the country and around the world. Here, undergraduate and graduate students connect and collaborate with faculty, staff and their peers through diverse communities that span residential colleges, classrooms, disciplines, hands-on research, co-curricular and community-based activities. Across all disciplines, Trent brings critical, integrative thinking to life every day. As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014/15, Trent’s unique approach to personal development through supportive, collaborative community engagement is in more demand than ever. Students lead the way by co-creating experiences rooted in dialogue, diverse perspectives and collaboration. In a learning environment that builds life-long passion for inclusion, leadership and social change, Trent’s students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged global citizens who are catalysts in developing sustainable solutions to complex issues. Trent’s Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River, just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, while Trent University Durham delivers a distinct mix of programming in the GTA.

Trent University’s expertise in water quality could be traced to its proximity to Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a much beleaguered research environment due to federal political imperatives. You can read more about the area and the politics in this Wikipedia entry. BTW, I am delighted to learn that it still exists under the auspices of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD),

Taking this post into nanotechnology territory while mentioning the ELA, Trent University published a Dec. 8, 2014 news release about research into silver nanoparticles,

For several years, Trent University’s Dr. Chris Metcalfe and Dr. Maggie Xenopoulos have dedicated countless hours to the study of aquatic contaminants and the threat they pose to our environment.

Now, through the efforts of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), their research is reaching a wider audience thanks to a new video (Note: A link has been removed).

The video is one of a five-part series being released by the IISD that looks into environmental issues in Canada. The video entitled “Distilling Science at the Experimental Lakes Area: Nanosilver” and featuring Professors Metcalfe and Xenopoulos profiles their research around nanomaterials at the Experimental Lakes Area.

Prof. Xenopolous’ involvement in the project falls in line with other environmental issues she has tackled. In the past, her research has examined how human activities – including climate change, eutrophication and land use – affect ecosystem structure and function in lakes and rivers. She has also taken an interest in how land use affects the material exported and processed in aquatic ecosystems.

Prof. Metcalfe’s ongoing research on the fate and distribution of pharmaceutical and personal care products in the environment has generated considerable attention both nationally and internationally.

Together, their research into nanomaterials is getting some attention. Nanomaterials are submicroscopic particles whose physical and chemical properties make them useful for a variety of everyday applications. They can be found in certain pieces of clothing, home appliances, paint, and kitchenware. Initial laboratory research conducted at Trent University showed that nanosilver could strongly affect aquatic organisms at the bottom of the food chain, such as bacteria, algae and zooplankton.

To further examine these effects in a real ecosystem, a team of researchers from Trent University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada has been conducting studies at undisclosed lakes in northwestern Ontario. The Lake Ecosystem Nanosilver (LENS) project has been monitoring changes in the lakes’ ecosystem that occur after the addition of nanosilver.

“In our particular case, we will be able to study and understand the effects of only nanosilver because that is the only variable that is going to change,” says Prof. Xenopoulos. “It’s really the only place in the world where we can do that.”

The knowledge gained from the study will help policy-makers make decisions about whether nanomaterials can be a threat to aquatic ecosystems and whether regulatory action is required to control their release into the environment.

You can find the 13 mins. video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nJai_B4YH0#action=share

Shapeshifting frogs, a new species in Ecuador

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs.
Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Here’s more about the shapeshifting and how the scientists figured out what the frogs were doing (from a March 23, 2015 Case Western Research University news release on EurekAlert; Note: A link has been removed),

A frog in Ecuador’s western Andean cloud forest changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Originally discovered by a Case Western Reserve University PhD student and her husband, a projects manager at Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, the amphibian is believed to be the first known to have this shape-shifting capability.

But the new species, called Pristimantis mutabilis, or mutable rainfrog, has company. Colleagues working with the couple recently found that a known relative of the frog shares the same texture-changing quality–but it was never reported before.

The frogs are found at Reserva Las Gralarias, a nature reserve originally created to protect endangered birds in the Parish of Mindo, in north-central Ecuador.

The researchers, Katherine and Tim Krynak, and colleagues from Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping (Ecuador) co-authored a manuscript describing the new animal and skin texture plasticity in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society this week. They believe their findings have broad implications for how species are and have been identified. The process may now require photographs and longer observations in the field to ensure the one species is not mistakenly perceived as two because at least two species of rain frogs can change their appearance.

Katherine Krynak believes the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable P. mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

The Krynaks originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009. The Krynaks had never seen this animal before, though Tim had surveyed animals on annual trips to Las Gralarias since 2001, and Katherine since 2005.

They captured the little frog and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed it “punk rocker” because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim to photograph. It wasn’t “punk “–it was smooth-skinned. They assumed that, much to her dismay, she must have picked up the wrong frog.

“I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss,” she said. “The spines came back… we simply couldn’t believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture!

“I put the frog back on the smooth white background. Its skin became smooth.”

“The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them,” she said. “But whether the texture really helps them elude predators still needs to be tested.”

During the next three years, a team of fellow biologists studied the frogs. They found the animals shift skin texture in a little more than three minutes.

Juan M. Guayasamin, from Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Ecuador, the manuscript’s first author, performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that P. mutabilis was a unique and undescribed species. Carl R. Hutter, from the University of Kansas, studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives. The fifth author of the paper, Jamie Culebras, assisted with fieldwork and was able to locate a second population of the species. Culebras is a member of Tropical Herping, an organization committed to discovering, and studying reptiles and amphibians.

Guayasamin and Hutter discovered that Prismantis sobetes, a relative with similar markings but about twice the size of P. mutabilis, has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth. P. sobetes is the only relative that has been tested so far.

Because the appearance of animals has long been one of the keys to identifying them as a certain species, the researchers believe their find challenges the system, particularly for species identified by one or just a few preserved specimens. With those, there was and is no way to know if the appearance is changeable.

The Krynaks, who helped form Las Gralarias Foundation to support the conservation efforts of the reserve, plan to return to continue surveying for mutable rain frogs and to work with fellow researchers to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species.

Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor. If P. mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.

Golden frog of Panama and its skin microbiome

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild. Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild.
Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Among many of the pressures on frog populations, there’s a lethal fungus which has affected some 200 species of frogs. A March 23, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily describes some recent research into the bacterial communities present on frog skin,

A team of scientists including Virginia Tech researchers is one step closer to understanding how bacteria on a frog’s skin affects its likelihood of contracting disease.

A frog-killing fungus known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, has already led to the decline of more than 200 amphibian species including the now extinct-in-the-wild Panamanian golden frog.

In a recent study, the research team attempted to apply beneficial bacteria found on the skin of various Bd-resistant wild Panamanian frog species to Panamanian golden frogs in captivity, to see if this would stimulate a defense against the disease.

A March 23, 2015 Virginia Tech University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a twist and a turn in the story (Note: Links have been removed),

They found that while the treatment with beneficial bacteria was not successful due to its inability to stick to the skin, there were some frogs that survived exposure to the fungus.

These survivors actually had unique bacterial communities on their skin before the experiments started.

The next step is to explore these new bacterial communities.

“We were disappointed that the treatment didn’t work, but glad to have discovered new information about the relationship between these symbiotic microbial communities and amphibian disease resistance,” said Lisa Belden, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and a faculty member with the new Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. “Every bit of information gets us closer to getting these frogs back into nature.”

Studying the microbial communities of Panamanian golden frogs was the dissertation focus of Belden’s former graduate student Matthew Becker, who graduated with a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Virginia Tech in 2014 and is now a fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“Anything that can help us predict resistance to this disease is very useful because the ultimate goal of this research is to establish healthy populations of golden frogs in their native habitat,” Becker told Smithsonian Science News. “I think identifying alternative probiotic treatment methods that optimize dosages and exposure times will be key for moving forward with the use of probiotics to mitigate chytridiomycosis.”

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

Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus by Matthew H. Becker , Jenifer B. Walke , Shawna Cikanek , Anna E. Savage , Nichole Mattheus , Celina N. Santiago , Kevin P. C. Minbiole , Reid N. Harris , Lisa K. Belden , Brian Gratwicke. April 2015 Volume: 282 Issue: 1805 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2881 Published 18 March 2015

This is an open access paper.

For anyone curious about the article in the Smithsonian mentioned in the news release, you can find it here.

 

Call for proposals to create in vitro inhalation tests for nanomaterial toxicity

I got an email announcement (March 17, 2015) which has acted as a spur to my desire to follow up on my Deux Seurats: one (was an artist) and one (is an inquiry into scientifically sound alternatives to animal testing) of December 26, 2014 post.

First, here’s a March 16, 2015 PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) International Science Consortium (PISC) press release which describes a practical and scientific initiative for finding alternatives to animal testing,

Today, the PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. put out a request for proposals (RFP) to identify facilities that can develop an in vitro test that, when used in an integrated approach, has the potential to replace the current test conducted on animals to assess the inhalation toxicity of nanomaterials.

The RFP follows a workshop, organized by the Science Consortium and held at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., that brought together scientific experts from government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations from around the world. The goal of the workshop was to make specific recommendations on the design of this in vitro test, including cell types, endpoints, exposure systems, and dosimetry considerations required to develop the in vitro model.

Based on the recommendations from the workshop, the RFP seeks facilities to develop a method that can assess the induction of pulmonary fibrosis in cells co-cultured at the air-liquid interface following exposure to aerosolized multi-walled carbon nanotubes. The Science Consortium will fund this work.

“For both scientific and ethical reasons, there is interest in developing a non-animal method that is faster, cheaper, and more relevant to the human situation,” says the Science Consortium’s Dr. Amy Clippinger.

The long-term vision is to include this in vitro test in a battery of in silico and in vitro assays that can be used in an integrated testing strategy, providing comprehensive information on biological endpoints relevant to inhalation exposure to nanomaterials to be used in the hazard ranking of substances in the risk-assessment process.

The request for proposals can be found here. The proposal deadline is May 29, 2015.

For more information, please visit PISCLTD.org.uk.

I see the research focus is on multi-walled carbon nanotubes. This makes sense since research has shown that long fibres act like the asbestos fibres they resemble when found in the lung.

Second, I’m hoping to follow up my Deux Seurats piece soon with the tentatively titled, The trouble with mice and … .

Dunkin’ Donuts and nano titanium dioxide

It’s been a busy few days for titanium dioxide, nano and otherwise, as the news about its removal from powdered sugar in Dunkin’ Donuts products ripples through the nano blogosphere. A March 6, 2015 news item on Azonano kicks off the discussion with an announcement,

Dunkin’ Brands, the parent company of the Dunkin’ Donuts chain, has agreed to remove titanium dioxide, a whitening agent that is commonly a source of nanomaterials, from all powdered sugar used to make the company’s donuts. As a result of this progress, the advocacy group As You Sow has withdrawn a shareholder proposal asking Dunkin’ to assess and reduce the risks of using nanomaterials in its food products.

Here’s a brief recent history of Dunkin’ Donuts and nano titanium dioxide from my Aug. 21, 2014 posting titled, FOE, nano, and food: part two of three (the problem with research),

Returning to the ‘debate’, a July 11, 2014 article by Sarah Shemkus for a sponsored section in the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlights an initiative taken by an environmental organization, As You Sow, concerning titanium dioxide in Dunkin’ Donuts’ products (Note: A link has been removed),

The activists at environmental nonprofit As You Sow want you to take another look at your breakfast doughnut. The organization recently filed a shareholder resolution asking Dunkin’ Brands, the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts, to identify products that may contain nanomaterials and to prepare a report assessing the risks of using these substances in foods.

Their resolution received a fair amount of support: at the company’s annual general meeting in May, 18.7% of shareholders, representing $547m in investment, voted for it. Danielle Fugere, As You Sow’s president, claims that it was the first such resolution to ever receive a vote. Though it did not pass, she says that she is encouraged by the support it received.

“That’s a substantial number of votes in favor, especially for a first-time resolution,” she says.

The measure was driven by recent testing sponsored by As You Sow, which found nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in the powdered sugar that coats some of the donut chain’s products. [emphasis mine] An additive widely used to boost whiteness in products from toothpaste to plastic, microscopic titanium dioxide has not been conclusively proven unsafe for human consumption. Then again, As You Sow contends, there also isn’t proof that it is harmless.

“Until a company can demonstrate the use of nanomaterials is safe, we’re asking companies either to not use them or to provide labels,” says Fugere. “It would make more sense to understand these materials before putting them in our food.”

As I understand it, Dunkin’ Donuts will be removing all titanium dioxide, nano-sized or other, from powdered sugar used in its products. It seems As You Sow’s promise to withdraw its July 2104 shareholder resolution is the main reason for Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision. While I was and am critical of Dunkin’ Donuts’ handling of the situation with As You Sow, I am somewhat distressed that the company seems to have acquiesced on the basis of research which is, at best, inconclusive.

Dr. Andrew Maynard, director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Centre, has written a substantive analysis of the current situation regarding nano titanium dioxide in a March 12, 2015 post on his 2020 Science blog (Note: Links have been removed),

Titanium dioxide (which isn’t the same thing as the metal titanium) is an inert, insoluble material that’s used as a whitener in everything from paper and paint to plastics. It’s the active ingredient in many mineral-based sunscreens. And as a pigment, is also used to make food products look more appealing.

Part of the appeal to food producers is that titanium dioxide is a pretty dull chemical. It doesn’t dissolve in water. It isn’t particularly reactive. It isn’t easily absorbed into the body from food. And it doesn’t seem to cause adverse health problems. It just seems to do what manufacturers want it to do – make food look better. It’s what makes the powdered sugar coating on donuts appear so dense and snow white. Titanium dioxide gives it a boost.

And you’ve probably been consuming it for years without knowing. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration allows food products to contain up to 1% food-grade titanium dioxide without the need to include it on the ingredient label. Help yourself to a slice of bread, a bar of chocolate, a spoonful of mayonnaise or a donut, and chances are you’ll be eating a small amount of the substance.

Andrew goes on to describe the concerns that groups such as You As Sow have (Note: Links have been removed),

For some years now, researchers have recognized that some powders become more toxic the smaller the individual particles are, and titanium dioxide is no exception. Pigment grade titanium dioxide – the stuff typically used in consumer products and food – contains particles around 200 nanometers in diameter, or around one five hundredth the width of a human hair. Inhale large quantities of these titanium dioxide particles (I’m thinking “can’t see your hand in front of your face” quantities), and your lungs would begin to feel it.

If the particles are smaller though, it takes much less material to cause the same effect.

But you’d still need to inhale very large quantities of the material for it to be harmful. And while eating a powdered donut can certainly be messy, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to end up stuck in a cloud of titanium dioxide-tinted powdered sugar coating!

… Depending on what they are made of and what shape they are, research has shown that some nanoparticles are capable of getting to parts of the body that are inaccessible to larger particles. And some particles are more chemically reactive because of their small size. Some may cause unexpected harm simply because they are small enough to throw a nano-wrench into the nano-workings of your cells.

This body of research is why organizations like As You Sow have been advocating caution in using nanoparticles in products without appropriate testing – especially in food. But the science about nanoparticles isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

As Andrew notes,

First of all, particles of the same size but made of different materials can behave in radically different ways. Assuming one type of nanoparticle is potentially harmful because of what another type does is the equivalent of avoiding apples because you’re allergic to oysters.

He describes some of the research on nano titanium dioxide (Note: Links have been removed),

… In 2004 the European Food Safety Agency carried out a comprehensive safety review of the material. After considering the available evidence on the same materials that are currently being used in products like Dunkin’ Donuts, the review panel concluded that there no evidence for safety concerns.

Most research on titanium dioxide nanoparticles has been carried out on ones that are inhaled, not ones we eat. Yet nanoparticles in the gut are a very different proposition to those that are breathed in.

Studies into the impacts of ingested nanoparticles are still in their infancy, and more research is definitely needed. Early indications are that the gastrointestinal tract is pretty good at handling small quantities of these fine particles. This stands to reason given the naturally occurring nanoparticles we inadvertently eat every day, from charred foods and soil residue on veggies and salad, to more esoteric products such as clay-baked potatoes. There’s even evidence that nanoparticles occur naturally inside the gastrointestinal tract.

He also probes the issue’s, nanoparticles, be they titanium dioxide or otherwise, and toxicity, complexity (Note: Links have been removed),

There’s a small possibility that we haven’t been looking in the right places when it comes to possible health issues. Maybe – just maybe – there could be long term health problems from this seemingly ubiquitous diet of small, insoluble particles that we just haven’t spotted yet. It’s the sort of question that scientists love to ask, because it opens up new avenues of research. It doesn’t mean that there is an issue, just that there is sufficient wiggle room in what we don’t know to ask interesting questions.

… While there is no evidence of a causal association between titanium dioxide in food and ill health, some studies – but not all by any means – suggest that large quantities of titanium dioxide nanoparticles can cause harm if they get to specific parts of the body.

For instance, there are a growing number of published studies that indicate nanometer sized titanium dioxide particles may cause DNA damage at high concentrations if it can get into cells. But while these studies demonstrate the potential for harm to occur, they lack information on how much material is needed, and under what conditions, for significant harm. And they tend to be associated with much larger quantities of material than anyone is likely to be ingesting on a regular basis.

They are also counterbalanced by studies that show no effects, indicating that there is still considerable uncertainty over the toxicity or otherwise of the material. It’s as if we’ve just discovered that paper can cause cuts, but we’re not sure yet whether this is a minor inconvenience or potentially life threatening. In the case of nanoscale titanium dioxide, it’s the classic case of “more research is needed.”

I strongly suggest reading Andrew’s post in its entirety either here on the University of Michigan website or here on The Conversation website.

Dexter Johnson in a March 11, 2015 post on his Nanoclast blog also weighs in on the discussion. He provides a very neat summary of the issues along with these observations (Note Links have been removed),

With decades of TiO2 being in our food supply and no reports of toxic reactions, it would seem that the threshold for proof is extremely high, especially when you combine the term “nano” with “asbestos”.

As You Sow makes sure to point out that asbestos is a nanoparticle. While the average diameter of an asbestos fiber is around 20 to 90 nm, their lengths varied between 200 nm and 200 micrometers.

The toxic aspect of asbestos was not its diameter, but its length. …

In addition to his summary Dexter highlights As You Sows attempt to link titanium dioxide nanoparticles to asbestos. I suggest reading his post for an informed description of what made asbestos so toxic (here) and why the linkage seems specious at this time.

For anyone interested in how As You Sow managed to introduce asbestos toxicity issues into a discussion about nano titanium dioxide and food products, there’s this from As You Sow’s FAQs (frequently asked questions) about nanomaterials in food page,

Why are nanomaterials in food important to investors?

When technology is used before ensuring that it is safe for humans and the environment, and before regulatory standards exist, companies can be exposed to significant financial, legal, and reputational risk. The limited studies that exist on nanomaterials, including nanoscale titanium dioxide*, have indicated that ingestion of these particles may pose health hazards.

The inaction of regulators does not protect companies, especially when the regulators themselves warn of the dangers of nanoparticles’ largely unknown risks. Draft guidance issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raises questions about the safety of nanoparticles and demonstrates the general lack of knowledge about the technology and its effects. (1)

Asbestos litigation is a good example of the risks that can arise from using an emerging technology before it is proven safe. Use of asbestos (a nanomaterial) has created the longest, most expensive mass tort in national history with total U.S. costs now standing at over $250 billion. (2) If companies been asked to investigate and minimize or avoid risks prior to adopting asbestos technology, a sad and expensive chapter in worker harm could have been avoided.

* Titanium dioxide is a common pigment and FDA-approved food additive. It is used as a whitener, a dispersant, and a thickener.

While I don’t particularly appreciate fear-mongering as a tactic, the strategy of targeting investors and their concerns, seems to have helped As You Sow win its way.

Removing titanium dioxide nanoparticles from water may not be that easy

A March 10, 2015 news item on Nanowerk highlights some research into the removal of nanoscale titanium dioxide particles from water supplies (Note: A link has been removed),

The increased use of engineered nanoparticles (ENMs) in commercial and industrial applications is raising concern over the environmental and health effects of nanoparticles released into the water supply. A timely study that analyzes the ability of typical water pretreatment methods to remove titanium dioxide, the most commonly used ENM, is published in Environmental Engineering Science (“Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticle Removal in Primary Prefiltration Stages of Water Treatment: Role of Coating, Natural Organic Matter, Source Water, and Solution Chemistry”). The article is available free on the Environmental Engineering Science website until April 10, 2015.

A March 10, 2015 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about the work (Note: A link has been removed),

Nichola Kinsinger, Ryan Honda, Valerie Keene, and Sharon Walker, University of California, Riverside, suggest that current methods of water prefiltration treatment cannot adequately remove titanium dioxide ENMs. They describe the results of scaled-down tests to evaluate the effectiveness of three traditional methods—coagulation, flocculation, and sedimentation—in the article “Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticle Removal in Primary Prefiltration Stages of Water Treatment: Role of Coating, Natural Organic Matter, Source Water, and Solution Chemistry.”

“As nanoscience and engineering allow us to develop new exciting products, we must be ever mindful of associated consequences of these advances,” says Domenico Grasso, PhD, PE, DEE, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Engineering Science and Provost, University of Delaware. “Professor Walker and her team have presented an excellent report raising concerns that some engineered nanomaterials may find their ways into our water supplies.”

“While further optimization of such treatment processes may allow for improved removal efficiencies, this study illustrates the challenges that we must be prepared to face with the emergence of new engineered nanomaterials,” says Sharon Walker, PhD, Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Riverside.

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

Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticle Removal in Primary Prefiltration Stages of Water Treatment: Role of Coating, Natural Organic Matter, Source Water, and Solution Chemistry by Nichola Kinsinger, Ryan Honda, Valerie Keene, and Sharon L. Walker. Environmental Engineering Science. doi:10.1089/ees.2014.0288.

This paper is freely available until April 10, 2015.

Interestingly Sharon Walker and Nichola Kinsinger recently co-authored a paper (mentioned in my March 9, 2015 post) about copper nanoparticles and water treatment which concluded this about copper nanoparticles in water supplies,

The researchers found that the copper nanoparticles, when studied outside the septic tank, impacted zebrafish embryo hatching rates at concentrations as low as 0.5 parts per million. However, when the copper nanoparticles were released into the replica septic tank, which included liquids that simulated human digested food and household wastewater, they were not bioavailable and didn’t impact hatching rates.

Taking these these two paper into account (and the many others I’ve read), there is no simple or universal answer to the question of whether or not ENPs or ENMs are going to pose environmental problems.

Copper nanoparticles, toxicity research, colons, zebrafish, and septic tanks

Alicia Taylor, a graduate student at UC Riverside, surrounded by buckets of effluent from the septic tank system she used for her research. Courtesy: University of California at Riverside

Alicia Taylor, a graduate student at UC Riverside, surrounded by buckets of effluent from the septic tank system she used for her research. Courtesy: University of California at Riverside

Those buckets of efflluent are strangely compelling. I think it’s the abundance of orange. More seriously, a March 2, 2015 news item on Nanowerk poses a question about copper nanoparticles,

What do a human colon, septic tank, copper nanoparticles and zebrafish have in common?

They were the key components used by researchers at the University of California, Riverside and UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] to study the impact copper nanoparticles, which are found in everything from paint to cosmetics, have on organisms inadvertently exposed to them.

The researchers found that the copper nanoparticles, when studied outside the septic tank, impacted zebrafish embryo hatching rates at concentrations as low as 0.5 parts per million. However, when the copper nanoparticles were released into the replica septic tank, which included liquids that simulated human digested food and household wastewater, they were not bioavailable and didn’t impact hatching rates.

A March 2, 2015 University of California at Riverside (UCR) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

“The results are encouraging because they show with a properly functioning septic tank we can eliminate the toxicity of these nanoparticles,” said Alicia Taylor, a graduate student working in the lab of Sharon Walker, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering.

The research comes at a time when products with nanoparticles are increasingly entering the marketplace. While the safety of workers and consumers exposed to nanoparticles has been studied, much less is known about the environmental implications of nanoparticles. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently accessing the possible effects of nanomaterials, including those made of copper, have on human health and ecosystem health.

The UC Riverside and UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] researchers dosed the septic tank with micro copper and nano copper, which are elemental forms of copper but encompass different sizes and uses in products, and CuPRO, a nano copper-based material used as an antifungal agent to spray agricultural crops and lawns.

While these copper-based materials have beneficial purposes, inadvertent exposure to organisms such as fish or fish embryos has not received sufficient attention because it is difficult to model complicated exposure environments.

The UC Riverside researchers solved that problem by creating a unique experimental system that consists of the replica human colon and a replica two-compartment septic tank, which was originally an acyclic septic tank. The model colon is made of a custom-built 20-inch-long glass tube with a 2-inch diameter with a rubber stopper at both ends and a tube-shaped membrane typically used for dialysis treatments within the glass tube.

To simulate human feeding, 100 milliliters of a 20-ingredient mixture that replicated digested food was pumped into the dialysis tube at 9 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. for five-day-long experiments over nine months.

The septic tank was filled with waste from the colon along with synthetic greywater, which is meant to simulate wastewater from sources such as sinks and bathtubs, and the copper nanoparticles. The researchers built a septic tank because 20 to 30 percent of American households rely on them for sewage treatment. Moreover, research has shown up to 40 percent of septic tanks don’t function properly. This is a concern if the copper materials are disrupting the function of the septic system, which would lead to untreated waste entering the soil and groundwater.

Once the primary chamber of the septic system was full, liquid began to enter the second chamber. Once a week, the effluent was drained from the secondary chamber and it was placed into sealed five-gallon containers. The effluent was then used in combination with zebrafish embryos in a high content screening process using multiwall plates to access hatching rates.

The remaining effluent has been saved and sits in 30 five-gallon buckets in a closet at UC Riverside because some collaborators have requested samples of the liquid for their experiments.

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

Understanding the Transformation, Speciation, and Hazard Potential of Copper Particles in a Model Septic Tank System Using Zebrafish to Monitor the Effluent* by Sijie Lin, Alicia A. Taylor, Zhaoxia Ji, Chong Hyun Chang, Nichola M. Kinsinger, William Ueng, Sharon L. Walker, and André E. Nel. ACS Nano, 2015, 9 (2), pp 2038–2048 DOI: 10.1021/nn507216f
Publication Date (Web): January 27, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

* Link added March 10, 2015.

Nanotechnology and infinite risk: Global challenges report on 12 risks that threaten human civilisation

The Global Challenges Foundation recently released a report which lists 12 global risks (from the Global Challenges: 12 Risks ,that threaten human civilisation report webpage,

This report has, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, created the first list of global risks with impacts that for all practical purposes can be called infinite. It is also the first structured overview of key events related to such risks and has tried to provide initial rough quantifications for the probabilities of these impacts.

With such a focus it may surprise some readers to find that the report’s essential aim is to inspire action and dialogue as well as an increased use of the methodologies used for risk assessment.

The real focus is not on the almost unimaginable impacts of the risks the report outlines. Its fundamental purpose is to encourage global collaboration and to use this new category of risk as a driver for innovation.

The 12 global risks that threaten human civilisation are:

Current risks

1. Extreme Climate Change
2. Nuclear War
3. Ecological Catastrophe
4. Global Pandemic
5. Global System Collapse

Exogenic risks

6. Major Asteroid Impact
7. Supervolcano

Emerging risks

8. Synthetic Biology
9. Nanotechnology
10. Artificial Intelligence
11. Uncertain Risks

Global policy risk

12. Future Bad Global Governance

The report is fairly new as it was published in February 2015. Here’s a summary of the nanotechnology risk from the report‘s executive summary,

Atomically precise manufacturing, the creation of effective, high- throughput manufacturing processes that operate at the atomic or molecular level. It could create new products – such as smart or extremely resilient materials – and would allow many different groups or even individuals to manufacture a wide range of things. This could lead to the easy construction of large arsenals of conventional or more novel weapons made possible by atomically precise manufacturing. AI is the intelligence exhibited by machines or software, and the branch of computer science that develops machines and software with human-level intelligence. The field is often defined as “the study and design of intelligent agents”, systems that perceive their environment and act to maximise their chances of success. Such extreme intelligences could not easily be controlled (either by the groups creating them, or by some international regulatory regime), and would probably act to boost their own intelligence and acquire maximal resources for almost all initial AI motivations.

Of particular relevance is whether nanotechnology allows the construction of nuclear bombs. But many of the world’s current problems may be solvable with the manufacturing possibilities that nanotechnology would offer, such as depletion of natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water and even poverty. Some have conjectured special self-replicating nanomachines which would be engineered to consume the entire environment. [grey goo and/or green goo scenarios; emphasis mine] The misuse of medical nanotechnology is another risk scenario. [p. 18 print version; p. 20 PDF]

I was a bit surprised to see the ‘goo’ scenarios referenced since Eric Drexler one of the participants and the person who first posted the ‘grey goo’ scenario (a green goo scenario was subsequently theorized by Robert Freitas)  has long tried to dissociate himself from it.

The report lists the academics and experts (including Drexler) who helped to produce the report,

Dr Nick Beckstead, Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford Martin School & Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Kennette Benedict, Executive Director and Publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Oliver Bettis, Pricing Actuary, Munich RE and Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Dr Eric Drexler, Academic Visitor, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford Martin School & Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford [emphasis mine]

Madeleine Enarsson , Transformative Catalyst, 21st Century Frontiers

Pan Jiahua, Director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS); Professor of economics at CASS; Vice-President Chinese Society for Ecological Economics; Member of the National Expert Panel on Climate Change and National Foreign Policy Advisory Committee, China

Jennifer Morgan, Founder & Co-Convener, The Finance Lab
James Martin Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford Martin School & Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Andrew Simms, Author, Fellow at the New Economics Foundation and Chief Analyst at Global Witness

Nathan Wolfe, Director of Global Viral and the Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor in Human Biology at Stanford University

Liang Yin, Investment Consultant at Towers Watson [p. 1 print versioin; p. 3 PDF]

While I don’t recognize any names other that Drexler’s, it’s an interesting list albeit with a preponderance of individuals associated with the University of Oxford .

The Feb. 16, 2015 Global Challenges Foundation press release announcing the risk report includes a brief description of the foundation and, I gather, a sister organization at Oxford University,

About the Global Challenges Foundation
The Global Challenges Foundation works to raise awareness of the greatest threats facing humanity and how these threats are linked to poverty and the rapid growth in global population. The Global Challenges Foundation was founded in 2011 by investor László Szombatfalvy.

About Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute
The Future of Humanity Institute is a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Oxford. It enables a select set of leading intellectuals to bring the tools of
mathematics, philosophy, and science to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects. The Institute belongs to the Faculty of Philosophy and is affiliated with
the Oxford Martin School.

The report is 212 pp (PDF), Happy Reading!

Cute, adorable roundworms help measure nanoparticle toxicity

Caption: Low-cost experiments to test the toxicity of nanomaterials focused on populations of roundworms. Rice University scientists were able to test 20 nanomaterials in a short time, and see their method as a way to determine which nanomaterials should undergo more extensive testing. Credit: Zhong Lab/Rice University

Caption: Low-cost experiments to test the toxicity of nanomaterials focused on populations of roundworms. Rice University scientists were able to test 20 nanomaterials in a short time, and see their method as a way to determine which nanomaterials should undergo more extensive testing.
Credit: Zhong Lab/Rice University

Until now, ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ are not words I would have associated with worms of any kind or with Rice University, for that matter. It’s amazing what a single image can do, eh?

A Feb. 3, 2015 news item on Azonano describes how roundworms have been used in research investigating the toxicity of various kinds of nanoparticles,

The lowly roundworm is the star of an ambitious Rice University project to measure the toxicity of nanoparticles.

The low-cost, high-throughput study by Rice scientists Weiwei Zhong and Qilin Li measures the effects of many types of nanoparticles not only on individual organisms but also on entire populations.

A Feb. 2, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about the research,

The Rice researchers tested 20 types of nanoparticles and determined that five, including the carbon-60 molecules (“buckyballs”) discovered at Rice in 1985, showed little to no toxicity.

Others were moderately or highly toxic to Caenorhabditis elegans, several generations of which the researchers observed to see the particles’ effects on their health.

The results were published by the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Sciences and Technology. They are also available on the researchers’ open-source website.

“Nanoparticles are basically new materials, and we don’t know much about what they will do to human health and the health of the ecosystem,” said Li, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering. “There have been a lot of publications showing certain nanomaterials are more toxic than others. So before we make more products that incorporate these nanomaterials, it’s important that we understand we’re not putting anything toxic into the environment or into consumer products.

“The question is, How much cost can we bear?” she said. “It’s a long and expensive process to do a thorough toxicological study of any chemical, not just nanomaterials.” She said that due to the large variety of nanomaterials being produced at high speed and at such a large scale, there is “an urgent need for high-throughput screening techniques to prioritize which to study more extensively.”

Rice’s pilot study proves it is possible to gather a lot of toxicity data at low cost, said Zhong, an assistant professor of biosciences, who has performed extensive studies on C. elegans, particularly on their gene networks. Materials alone for each assay, including the worms and the bacteria they consumed and the culture media, cost about 50 cents, she said.

The researchers used four assays to see how worms react to nanoparticles: fitness, movement, growth and lifespan. The most sensitive assay of toxicity was fitness. In this test, the researchers mixed the nanoparticles in solutions with the bacteria that worms consume. Measuring how much bacteria they ate over time served as a measure of the worms’ “fitness.”

“If the worms’ health is affected by the nanoparticles, they reproduce less and eat less,” Zhong said. “In the fitness assay, we monitor the worms for a week. That is long enough for us to monitor toxicity effects accumulated through three generations of worms.” C. elegans has a life cycle of about three days, and since each can produce many offspring, a population that started at 50 would number more than 10,000 after a week. Such a large number of tested animals also enabled the fitness assay to be highly sensitive.

The researchers’ “QuantWorm” system allowed fast monitoring of worm fitness, movement, growth and lifespan. In fact, monitoring the worms was probably the least time-intensive part of the project. Each nanomaterial required specific preparation to make sure it was soluble and could be delivered to the worms along with the bacteria. The chemical properties of each nanomaterial also needed to be characterized in detail.

The researchers studied a representative sampling of three classes of nanoparticles: metal, metal oxides and carbon-based. “We did not do polymeric nanoparticles because the type of polymers you can possibly have is endless,” Li explained.

They examined the toxicity of each nanoparticle at four concentrations. Their results showed C-60 fullerenes, fullerol (a fullerene derivative), titanium dioxide, titanium dioxide-decorated nanotubes and cerium dioxide were the least damaging to worm populations.

Their “fitness” assay confirmed dose-dependent toxicity for carbon black, single- and multiwalled carbon nanotubes, graphene, graphene oxide, gold nanoparticles and fumed silicon dioxide.

They also determined the degree to which surface chemistry affected the toxicity of some particles. While amine-functionalized multiwalled nanotubes proved highly toxic, hydroxylated nanotubes had the least toxicity, with significant differences in fitness, body length and lifespan.

A complete and interactive toxicity chart for all of the tested materials is available online.

Zhong said the method could prove its worth as a rapid way for drug or other companies to narrow the range of nanoparticles they wish to put through more expensive, dedicated toxicology testing.

“Next, we hope to add environmental variables to the assays, for example, to mimic ultraviolet exposure or river water conditions in the solution to see how they affect toxicity,” she said. “We also want to study the biological mechanism by which some particles are toxic to worms.”

Here’s a citation for the paper and links to the paper and to the researchers’ website,

A multi-endpoint, high-throughput study of nanomaterial toxicity in Caenorhabditis elegans by Sang-Kyu Jung, Xiaolei Qu, Boanerges Aleman-Meza, Tianxiao Wang, Celeste Riepe, Zheng Liu, Qilin Li, and Weiwei Zhong. Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/es5056462 Publication Date (Web): January 22, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

Nanomaterial effects on C. elegans

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This heat map indicates whether a measurement for the nanomaterial-exposed worms is higher (yellow), or lower (blue) than the control worms. Black indicates no effects from nanomaterial exposure.

Clicking on colored blocks to see detailed experimental data.

The published paper is open access but you need an American Chemical Society site registration to access it. The researchers’ site is open access.

Nanowaste or the end of the life cycle for nanoscale materials

A Jan. 27, 2015 Nanwerk spotlight article on nanowaste presents a comprehensive picture of possible issues (Note: Footnotes have been removed),

Based on their special chemical and physical properties, synthetically produced nanomaterials (engineered nanomaterials, ENMs) are currently being used in a wide range of products and applications. The Nanomaterial Databank of Nanowerk … currently lists nanomaterials composed of 28 different elements as well as of carbon (fullerenes, CNT, graphene), quantum dots consisting of several semi-conductor materials, a large number of simple nanoparticulate compounds (oxides, carbonates, nitrides) and those made up of complex compounds containing several components. On the one hand, the application of nanomaterials promises reduction potentials and sustainability effects for the environment, for example through resource and material savings ….

On the other hand, we know very little about the behavior of nanomaterials or about environmental and health risks when these products enter various waste streams at the end of their life cycles. A better understanding of the risks in the so-called End-of-Life-Phase (EOL) calls for considering the different disposal pathways and potential transformation processes that nanomaterials undergo in waste treatment plants. In the disposal phase no consideration is being given to either the special properties of nanomaterials or to potential recovery and re-use. …

There is no special legal framework in place for a separate treatment of nanomaterial containing wastes … or the monitoring of the processes. A prerequisite for such a framework would be exact knowledge about the nanomaterials being used, their form (species) and composition, potential transformation processes as well as about amounts and concentrations. Such information, however, is not available, and virtually no studies have been conducted on the EOL phase of products containing nanomaterials. Very little is known about how nanomaterial-containing wastes behave in thermal, biological or mechanical-biological waste treatment plants or in landfills. …

The spotlight article appears to be a reprint of an ITA (Institute of Technology Assessment) NanoTrust Dossier [“Nanowaste” – Nanomaterial-containing products at the end of their life cycle (NanoTrust Dossier No. 040en – August 2014)] by Sabine Greßler, Florian Part, and André Gazsó,

Abstract:
Based on their special chemical and physical properties, synthetically produced nanomaterials are currently being used in a wide range of products and applications. At the end of their product life cycle, nanomaterials can enter waste treatment plants and landfills via diverse waste streams. Little, however, is known about how nanomaterials behave in the disposal phase and whether potential environmental or health risks arise. There are no specific legal requirements for a separate treatment of nanomaterial-containing wastes. Virtually no information is available about the nanomaterials currently in use, their form and composition, or about their amounts and concentrations. The current assumption is that stable nanoparticles (e.g. metal oxides) are neither chemically nor physically altered in waste incineration plants and that they accumulate especially in the residues (e.g. slag). These residues are ultimately dumped. The disposal problem in the case of stable nanoparticles is therefore merely shifted to the subsequent steps in the waste treatment process. Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are almost completely combusted in incineration plants. Filter systems seem to be only partially efficient, and a release of nanoparticles into the environment cannot be excluded. Incinerating nanomaterials contained in products can also promote the development of organic pollutants as undesired by-products. Only few studies are available on the behavior of nanomaterials in landfills. Moreover, recycling such products could release nanomaterials, most likely when these are shredded and crushed.

This dossier offers a good review of the current state of affairs with regard to nanowaste. I haven’t read it exhaustively but it coincides with my understanding of the situation including the fact that there’s not much research on the topic.

BTW, NanoTrust is a project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA). The nanowaste dossier is also available in German.

Government of Canada’s risk assessment for multi-walled carbon nanotubes

Lynn Bergeson’s Jan. 15, 2015 post on the Nanotechnology Now website mentions a newly issued Canadian risk assessment for multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs),

Canada announced on January 9, 2015, that the New Substances Program has published six new risk assessment summaries for chemicals and polymers, including a summary for multi-wall carbon nanotubes.

… Environment Canada and Health Canada conduct risk assessments on new substances. These assessments include consideration of information on physical and chemical properties, hazards, uses, and exposure to determine whether a substance is or may become harmful to human health or environment as set out in Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), and, if harm is suspected, to introduce any appropriate or required control measures. …

Here’s more information from the Summary of Risk Assessment Conducted Pursuant to subsection 83(1) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Significant New Activity No. 17192: Multi-wall carbon nanotubes webpage,

Substance Identity

The substance is a short tangled multi-walled carbon nanotube that can be classified as a nanomaterial. [emphasis mine]

Notified Activities

The substance is proposed to be manufactured in or imported into Canada in quantities greater than 1000 kg/yr for use as an additive in plastics.

Environmental Fate and Behaviour

Based on its physical and chemical properties, if released to the environment, the substance will tend to partition to water, sediment, soil, and ambient air. The substance is expected to be persistent in these compartments because it is a stable inorganic chemical that will not degrade. Based on the limited understanding of uptake by organisms, more data is required to assess the bioaccumulation potential of this substance at the current schedule notification.

Ecological Assessment

Based on the available hazard information on the substance and surrogate data on structurally related nanomaterials, the substance has low to moderate (1-100 mg/L) acute toxicity in aquatic life (fish/daphnia/algae). The predicted no effect concentration was calculated to be less than 1 mg/L using the ErC50 from the most sensitive organism (P. subcapitata), which was used to estimate the environmental risk.

The notified and other potential activities in Canada were assessed to estimate the environmental exposure potential of the substance throughout its life cycle. Environmental exposure from the notified activities was determined through a conservative generic single point-source release blending scenario. The predicted environmental concentration for notified activities is estimated to be 2.1 µg/L.

Based on the current use profile in conjunction with low to moderate ecotoxicity endpoints, the substance is unlikely to cause ecological harm in Canada.

However, based on the current understanding of carbon nanotubes and nanomaterials in general, a change in the use profile of the substance (SNAc No. 17192) may significantly alter the exposure resulting in the substance becoming harmful to the environment.  Consequently, more information is necessary to better characterize potential environmental risks.

Human Health Assessment

Based on the available hazard information on the substance, the substance has a low potential for acute toxicity by the oral, dermal and inhalation routes of exposure (oral and dermal LD50 greater than 2000 mg/kg bw; inhalation LC50 greater than 1.3 mg/m3). It is a severe eye irritant (MAS score = 68), a mild skin irritant (PII = 1.08) and at most a weak sensitizer (because the positive control was tested at a concentration 10X higher than the test substance). It is not an in vitro mutagen (negative in a mammalian cell gene mutation test and in a mammalian chromosome aberration test).  Therefore the substance is unlikely to cause genetic damage.

Hazards related to substances used in the workplace should be classified accordingly under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

However, based on the available information on structurally related nanomaterials, the substance may cause respiratory toxicity, immunotoxicity, cardiovascular toxicity and carcinogenicity following oral and inhalation exposure.

When used as an additive in plastics, the substance is expected to be manufactured in or imported into Canada encapsulated in a solid polymer matrix. The potential site of exposure to the substance is expected to be within industrial facilities. Therefore, direct exposure of the general population is expected to be low. No significant environmental release is anticipated due to the specialized use under this notification and therefore indirect exposure of the general population from environmental media is also expected to be low. However, if the substance is produced in different forms (e.g. liquid polymer form), applied in different formulations or used in any other potential applications, an increased direct or indirect exposure potential may exist.

Based on the low potential for direct and indirect exposure of the general population under the industrial uses identified in this submission, the substance is not likely to pose a significant health risk to the general population, and is therefore unlikely to be harmful to human health.

However, based on the current understanding of carbon nanotubes and of nanomaterials in general, the risk arising from the use of the substance in consumer products is not known at this time.  The use of the substance in consumer products or in products intended for use by or for children may significantly alter the exposure of the general population resulting in the substance becoming harmful to human health.  Similarly, the import or manufacture of the substance in quantities greater than 10 000 kg/yr may significantly increase the exposure levels of the general population resulting in the substance becoming harmful to human health.  Consequently, more information is necessary to better characterize potential health risks.

I would like to see a definition for the word short as applied, in this risk assessment, to multi-walled carbon nanotubes. That said, this assessment is pretty much in line with current thinking about short, multi-walled carbon nanotubes. In short (wordplay noted), these carbon nanotubes are relatively safe (although some toxicological issues have been noted) as far as can be determined. However, the ‘relatively safe’ assessment may change as more of these carbon nanotubes enter the environment and as people are introduced to more products containing them.

One last comment, I find it surprising I can’t find any mention in the risk assessment of emergency situations such as fire, earthquake, explosions, etc. which could conceivably release short multi-walled carbon nanotubes into the air exposing emergency workers and people caught in a disaster. As well, those airborne materials might subsequently be found in greater quantity in the soil and water.

Silicon dioxide nanoparticles may affect the heart

This is an interesting piece of research although it’s difficult to draw conclusions since the testing was ‘in vitro’, which literally means ‘in glass’ and in practice means testing cells in a test tube, a petri dish or, possibly, on a slide. That said, this work centering on silicon dioxide nanoparticles, which are increasingly used in biomedical applications, suggests further investigation is warranted. From a Jan. 9, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Nanoparticles, extremely tiny particles measured in billionths of a meter, are increasingly everywhere, and especially in biomedical products. Their toxicity has been researched in general terms, but now a team of Israeli scientists has for the first time found that exposure nanoparticles (NPs) of silicon dioxide (SiO2) can play a major role in the development of cardiovascular diseases when the NP cross tissue and cellular barriers and also find their way into the circulatory system.

A Jan. 8, 2015American Technion Society news release by Kevin Hattori, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

“Environmental exposure to nanoparticles is becoming unavoidable due to the rapid expansion of nanotechnology,” says the study’s lead author, Prof. Michael Aviram, of the Technion Faculty of Medicine, “This exposure may be especially chronic for those employed in research laboratories and in high tech industry where workers handle, manufacture, use and dispose of nanoparticles. Products that use silica-based nanoparticles for biomedical uses, such as various chips, drug or gene delivery and tracking, imaging, ultrasound therapy, and diagnostics, may also pose an increased cardiovascular risk for consumers as well.” [emphasis mine]

In this study, researchers exposed cultured laboratory mouse cells resembling the arterial wall cells to NPs of silicon dioxide and investigated the effects. SiO2 NPs are toxic to and have significant adverse effects on macrophages. a type of white blood cell that take up lipids, leading to atherosclerotic lesion development and its consequent cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke. Macrophages accumulation in the arterial wall under atherogenic conditions such as high cholesterol, triglycerides, oxidative stress – are converted into lipids, or laden “foam cells” which, in turn, accelerate atherosclerosis development.

“Macrophage foam cells accumulation in the arterial wall are a key cell type in the development of atherosclerosis, which is an inflammatory disease” says co-author Dr. Lauren Petrick. “The aims of our study were to gain additional insight into the cardiovascular risk associated with silicon dioxide nanoparticle exposure and discover the mechanisms behind Si02’s induced atherogenic effects on macrophages. We also wanted to use nanoparticles as a model for ultrafine particle (UFP) exposure as cardiovascular disease risk factors.”

Both NPs and UFPs can be inhaled and induce negative biological effects. [emphasis mine] However, until this study, their effect on the development of atherosclerosis has been largely unknown. Here, researchers have discovered for the first time that the toxicity of silicon dioxide nanoparticles has a “significant and substantial effect on the accumulation of triglycerides in the macrophages,” at all exposure concentrations analyzed, and that they also “increase oxidative stress and toxicity.”

A recent update from the American Heart Association also suggested that “fine particles” in air pollution leads to elevated risk for cardiovascular diseases. However, more research was needed to examine the role of “ultrafine particles” (which are much smaller than “fine particles”) on atherosclerosis development and cardiovascular risk.

“The number of nano-based consumer products has risen a thousand fold in recent years, with an estimated world market of $3 trillion by the year 2020,” conclude the researchers. “This reality leads to increased human exposure and interaction of silica-based nanoparticles with biological systems. Because our research demonstrates a clear cardiovascular health risk associated with this trend, steps need to be taken to help ensure that potential health and environmental hazards are being addressed at the same time as the nanotechnology is being developed.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a little exaggeration at work in this news release. For example, I’m not sure how a consumer would go about inhaling a computer chip or more specifically the silicon dioxide nanoparticles embedded in the chip although I can see how someone involved in the manufacture of the chip might be exposed and inhale silicon dioxide nanoparticles. I’m not trying to negate the research but do want to point out that it has limitations.

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

Silicon dioxide nanoparticles increase macrophage atherogenicity: Stimulation of cellular cytotoxicity, oxidative stress, and triglycerides accumulation by Lauren Petrick, Mira Rosenblat, Nicole Paland, and Michael Aviram. Article first published online: 28 NOV 2014 DOI: 10.1002/tox.22084

Copyright © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

This article is behind a paywall.