I don’t often get information about China and its research into nanosafety issues so hats off to Jane Qiu at Nature Magazine for her Sept. 18, 2012 article (open access) on the topic,
Here is a recipe for anxiety: take China’s poorly enforced chemical-safety regulations, add its tainted record on product safety and stir in the uncertain risks of a booming nanotechnology industry.
As an antidote to this uneasy mixture, the country should carry out more-extensive safety studies and improve regulatory oversight of synthetic nanomaterials, leading Chinese researchers said at the 6th International Conference on Nanotoxicology in Beijing this month. “This is the only way to maintain the competitiveness of China’s nanotechnology sector,” says Zhao Yuliang, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) in Beijing. “We certainly don’t want safety issues to become a trade barrier for nano-based products.”
China has, as is widely known, invested heavily in nanotechnology research and is, increasingly, considered a major contender in this area. In common with many countries, China considers its research to be an investment in future economic prosperity. Also in common with many countries research into safety and environmental issues is not a particularly high priority,
China’s investment in nanotechnology has grown rapidly during the past decade, and its tally of patent applications in the field has surpassed those of Europe and the United States (see ‘Patent boom’). But only 3% of the investment is used for safety studies, says Zhao, compared with about 6% of federal nanotechnology funding in the United States. [emphasis mine] “The situation must be changed soon,” he says.
Although 6% by comparison with 3% must seem munificent, I don’t consider it to be a particularly substantive investment.
Qiu’s article does make mention of the 2009 industrial ‘accident’ where seven (eight according to my source in the European Respiratory Journal) workers were stricken with lung damage (two died) after working with materials containing nanoparticles. My July 26, 2011 posting noted this about the ‘accident’,
From the European Respiratory Journal article (ERJ September 1, 2009 vol. 34 no. 3 559-567, free access), Exposure to nanoparticles is related to pleural effusion, pulmonary fibrosis and granuloma,
A survey of the patients’ workplace was conducted. It measures ∼70 m2, has one door, no windows and one machine which is used to air spray materials, heat and dry boards. This machine has three atomising spray nozzles and one gas exhauster (a ventilation unit), which broke 5 months before the occurrence of the disease. The paste material used is an ivory white soft coating mixture of polyacrylic ester.
Eight workers (seven female and one male) were divided into two equal groups each working 8–12 h shifts. Using a spoon, the workers took the above coating material (room temperature) to the open-bottom pan of the machine, which automatically air-sprayed the coating material at the pressure of 100–120 Kpa onto polystyrene (PS) boards (organic glass), which can then be used in the printing and decorating industry. The PS board was heated and dried at 75–100°C, and the smoke produced in the process was cleared by the gas exhauster. In total, 6 kg of coating material was typically used each day. The PS board sizes varied from 0.5–1 m2 and ∼5,000 m2 were handled each workday. The workers had several tasks in the process including loading the soft coating material in the machine, as well as clipping, heating and handling the PS board. Each worker participated in all parts of this process.
Accumulated dust particles were found at the intake of the gas exhauster. During the 5 months preceding illness the door of the workspace was kept closed due to cold outdoor temperatures. The workers were all peasants near the factory, and had no knowledge of industrial hygiene and possible toxicity from the materials they worked with. The only personal protective equipment used on an occasional basis was cotton gauze masks. …
This provides some evidence for Qiu’s lede about “China’s poorly enforced chemical-safety regulations.” Further in the article is acknowledgement of the occupational safety issue along with other safety issues,
Researchers at the meeting said that better safety testing was needed for products containing nanoparticles that can be absorbed by the body, such as food and cosmetics in which nanoparticles provide specific colours or textures. But occupational exposure among workers handling the materials may present the greatest risks: China’s workplace safety rules are not always implemented, and they set no specific limits for handling nanoparticles.
First, they need to characterize the hazards,
“The main challenge is to tease out what characteristics make some nanoparticles hazardous,” says Zhao. To address that question, Chinese researchers will next year join forces with colleagues in Europe, the United States and Brazil in a €13-million (US$17-million) project called Nanosolutions, to develop a nano-safety classification system based on material characteristics, toxicity studies and bioinformatics data. [emphasis mine] Initially focusing on 30 or so materials, such as carbon nanotubes, and nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and silver, the team will use high-throughput screening to identify the most toxic, and then investigate their biological effects in animal studies.
I’m glad to have learned more about China’s nanosafety efforts and look forward to hearing more about the Nanosolutions project as it progresses. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find any more information about this multi-country initiative, otherwise, I’d offer a link.
Tags: 6th International Conference on Nanotoxicology, China, Chinese workers, European Respiratory Journal, Exposure to nanoparticles is related to pleural effusion, Jane Qiu, Nanosolutions, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, Nature, NCNST, occupational health & safety, pulmonary fibrosis and granuloma, Zhao Yuliang