Tag Archives: International Council on Nanotechnology

Corporate influence, nanotechnology regulation, and Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia

The latest issue of the newsletter, Chain Reaction # 121, July 2014, published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia features an article by Louise Sales ‘Corporate influence over nanotechnology regulation‘ that has given me pause. From the Sales article,

I recently attended an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) seminar on the risk assessment and risk management of nanomaterials. This was an eye-opening experience that graphically illustrated the extent of corporate influence over nanotechnology regulation globally. Representatives of the chemical companies DuPont and Evonik; the Nanotechnology Industries Association; and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC) sat alongside representatives of countries such as Australia, the US and Canada and were given equal speaking time.

BIAC gave a presentation on their work with the Canadian and United States Governments to harmonise nanotechnology regulation between the two countries. [US-Canada Regulatory Cooperative Council] [emphasis mine] Repeated reference to the involvement of ‘stakeholders’ prompted me to ask if any NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] were involved in the process. Only in the earlier stages apparently − ‘stakeholders’ basically meant industry.

A representative of the Nanotechnology Industries Association told us about the European NANoREG project they are leading in collaboration with regulators, industry and scientists. This is intended to ‘develop … new testing strategies adapted to innovation requirements’ and to ‘establish a close collaboration among authorities, industry and science leading to efficient and practically applicable risk management approaches’. In other words industry will be helping write the rules.

Interestingly, when I raised concerns about this profound intertwining of government and industry with one of the other NGO representatives they seemed almost dismissive of my concerns. I got the impression that most of the parties concerned thought that this was just the ‘way things were’. As under-resourced regulators struggle with the regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology − the offer of industry assistance is probably very appealing. And from the rhetoric at the meeting one could be forgiven for thinking that their objectives are very similar − to ensure that their products are safe. Right? Wrong.

I just published an update about the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC; in  my July 14, 2014 posting) where I noted the RCC has completed its work and final reports are due later this summer. Nowhere in any of the notices is there mention of BIAC’s contribution (whatever it might have been) to this endeavour.

Interestingly. BIAC is not an OECD committee but a separate organization as per its About us page,

BIAC is an independent international business association devoted to advising government policymakers at OECD and related fora on the many diversified issues of globalisation and the world economy.

Officially recognised since its founding in 1962 as being representative of the OECD business community, BIAC promotes the interests of business by engaging, understanding and advising policy makers on a broad range of issues with the overarching objectives of:

  • Positively influencing the direction of OECD policy initiatives;

  • Ensuring business and industry needs are adequately addressed in OECD policy decision instruments (policy advocacy), which influence national legislation;

  • Providing members with timely information on OECD policies and their implications for business and industry.

Through its 38 policy groups, which cover the major aspects of OECD work most relevant to business, BIAC members participate in meetings, global forums and consultations with OECD leadership, government delegates, committees and working groups.

I don’t see any mention of safety either in the excerpt or elsewhere on their About us page.

As Sales notes in her article,

Ultimately corporations have one primary driver and that’s increasing their bottom line.

I do wonder why there doesn’t seem to have been any transparency regarding BIAC’s involvement with the RCC and why no NGOs (according to Sales) were included as stakeholders.

While I sometimes find FoE and its fellow civil society groups a bit shrill and over-vehement at times, It never does to get too complacent. For example, who would have thought that General Motors would ignore safety issues (there were car crashes and fatalities as a consequence) over the apparently miniscule cost of changing an ignition switch. From What is the timeline of the GM recall scandal? on Vox.com,

March 2005: A GM project engineering manager closed the investigation into the faulty switches, noting that they were too costly to fix. In his words: “lead time for all solutions is too long” and “the tooling cost and piece price are too high.” Later emails unearthed by Reuters suggested that the fix would have cost GM 90 cents per car. [emphasis mine]

March 2007: Safety regulators inform GM of the death of Amber Rose, who crashed her Chevrolet Cobalt in 2005 after the ignition switch shut down the car’s electrical system and air bags failed to deploy. Neither the company nor regulators open an investigation.

End of 2013: GM determines that the faulty ignition switch is to blame for at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths.

According to a July 17, 2014 news item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, has testified on the mater before the US Senate for a 2nd time, this year,

A U.S. Senate panel posed questions to a new set of key players Thursday [July 17, 2014] as it delves deeper into General Motors’ delayed recall of millions of small cars.

An internal report found GM attorneys signed settlements with the families of crash victims but didn’t tell engineers or top executives about mounting problems with ignition switches. It also found that GM’s legal staff acted without urgency.

GM says faulty ignition switches were responsible for at least 13 deaths. It took the company 11 years to recall the cars.

Barra will certainly be asked about how she’s changing a corporate culture that allowed a defect with ignition switches to remain hidden from the car-buying public for 11 years. It will be Barra’s second time testifying before the panel.

H/T ICON (International Council on Nanotechnology) July 16, 2014 news item. Following on the topic of transparency, ICON based at Rice University in Texas (US) has a Sponsors webpage.

France’s nanomaterial declaration

I stumbled across a rather brief May 13, 2013 announcement on the ICON (International Council on Nanotechnology) website about a French nanomaterial initiative,

France Extends Deadline for Reporting Nanomaterials (NOECT Blog)

Further investigation landed me on the R-Nano.fr; Declaration of Nanomaterials website,

Welcome to the website for declaring substances with nanoparticle status: “r-nano”. On these pages you can declare the substances with nanoparticle status that you produce, import, distribute, or formulate, as required by Articles L. 523-1 to L. 523-5 of the French Environmental Code.

At the deadline of 30 April 2013, 457 companies have made 1991 declarations. These initial results shows a satisfactory mobilization of stakeholders.

The Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, considering the diversity of actors covered by the declaration requirement, and at the request of several industries, decided, for the first reporting year, to grant two more months to complete the declarations. Thereby, exceptionally, new declarations can be initiated and submitted until 30 June 2013.

There’s a little more explanation of the site’s raison d’être on the Help/FAQs page,

Q : 1/ Why is there a system for declaring substances with nanoparticle status ?

Because of the advantages offered by their specific properties, substances with nanoparticle status are used in a number of sectors: foodstuffs, aeronautics, cosmetics, alternative energies, pneumatics, health, sport and others. The properties in question are such as to create potential hazards for humans and the environment. As emphasised in the European Commission Communication of 3 October 2012, a substance can present different hazards depending on whether it has bulk status or nanoparticle status.

For a better understanding of the issues, it seems necessary to acquire an improved knowledge of the market, including the substances marketed in France, their uses, the sectors in which they are used, the quantities involved, etc.

With the help of this information, it will be possible to estimate exposures more accurately and produce risk assessments for these substances. It is for this purpose that France has decided to introduce mandatory declaration of substances with nanoparticle status, whether in that form, in mixtures or within certain materials.

Q : 2/ How must declarations be made? Is there a special form ?

A web site has been set up on which the various companies concerned can each create an account and submit their declarations. The address of the declaration web site is www.r-nano.fr

Regarding declarations for which applicants wish to make use of the waiver concerning the availability of information to the public provided for activities related to national defence, the declaration will first be made online and then finalised on paper.

Q : 3/ At what date does the system come into force ?

The system comes into force on 1 January 2013: the first declarations will concern substances in nanoparticle status produced, imported and/or distributed during 2012.

Q : 5/ If a substance with nanoparticle status is indicated on the packaging (case of biocides and cosmetics in 2013), is it still necessary to submit a declaration ?

Yes: the labelling and the declaration system do not have the same purpose.

Q : 6/ Is France the only country in Europe with this kind of declaration system ?

Yes, though Italy, Belgium and Denmark are considering the introduction of similar measures.

Q : 7/ Which players are concerned by the declaration ? (UPDATED)

All national participants in the distribution chain in France covered by the requirement to declare substances with nanoparticle status must complete a declaration if they produce, import into France from another Member State of the European Union or from any other country or distribute any substance, mixture or “article” (article, see Question 18) covered by the definitions laid down in Article R. 523-12 and in quantities exceeding 100 grams/year and per substance.

Q : 38/ How will the information supplied be used ?

The information supplied for declarations enables the authorities to estimate the flows of substances with nanoparticle status in France, which will be a “first” for Europe. The knowledge acquired concerning substances and their uses, the production and usage sectors, or the quantities sold, will provide insight into the dissemination of these substances and their actual use.

To help them undertake health risk assessments, authorities will be allowed to request supplementary information from declarers, when available, especially concerning toxicological and ecotoxicological data, as well as data concerning exposure.

I have two comments. First, there are over 40 questions in the FAQs but none concern the issue of how this requirement will be enforced. Second, I gather that after abysmal results elsewhere the French concluded that voluntary reporting does not work.

It’s good to see at least [one*] government making an attempt to gather the information openly. The Canadian scheme was managed in a more clandestine fashion. I finally tracked down some information about it in an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) document and featured some of the data from the Canadian nanomaterial reporting scheme (as reported to the OECD)  in my April 12, 2010 posting.

* ETA May 17, 2013: I added the word ‘one’.

Figuring out our knowledge gaps (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work) and fillng them (Nanomaterial Registry beta version launched)

You (well, I do) get sick of hearing that nanotechnology awareness is low in the general public. Awareness is low in a lot of areas not just nanotechnology. There’s much to choose from and  it takes a lot of work becoming aware let alone becoming knowledgeable, so one tends to pick and choose.

The June 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk doesn’t provoke much excitement until,

There are serious gaps in our awareness of the potential risks involved in handling nanomaterials at work, and serious shortcomings in the way that those risks are communicated to workplaces, according to a new literature review(pdf [Risk perception and risk communication with regard to nanomaterials in the workplace {European Risk Observatory, Literature Review}]) from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).

We are facing nanotechnology in our everyday life in many products and applications. Although health and environmental hazards have been demonstrated for some manufactured nanomaterials, they are used in food, cosmetics, textiles, paints, sporting goods, electronics, detergents, and many health and fitness products. And they are present in many workplaces, too.  …

In its review of current research on the subject, EU-OSHA found that communication of the potential risks posed by such materials is still poor, with a majority of Europeans (54%), not even knowing what nanotechnology is. Even in workplaces where manufactured nanomaterials are found, the level of awareness is low. For example, 75% of workers and employers in construction are not aware they work with them. [emphasis mine]

Given that the folks who are at most risk (assuming there is any risk) are the ones who work with the materials, this is disturbing.

The workers who have produced the materials (coatings, etc.) being used by the construction workers are at the most risk as they are exposed to the ‘raw’ nanomaterials.

Once the materials have been constituted as part of a product, the risk level will likely dissipate. Still,  construction workers who apply coatings to various surfaces (e.g. windows) would seem to be at higher risk than people who work in a building with nanotechnology-enabled coated windows that have dried and cured. In any event, the construction workers might take greater care with their industrial hygiene practices if they knew they were working with nanotechnology-enabled products.

The EU-OSHA has an online set of case studies, with a nanotechnology category, illustrating Good Occupational Practices. You can find out more here.  (This reminds me of the International Council on Nanotechnology’s [ICON] Good Nano Guide, which I’ve not mentioned in quite some time. It too focuses on how to handle nanomaterials in an occupational setting.)

This next item is not directly related to occupational health and safety although there could be some crossover. RTI (Research Triangle Institute) International has launched their beta version of a Nanomaterial Registry. From the About the Registry page,

Registry Purpose The purpose of the Nanomaterial Registry project is to:

  • Build a repository of curated nanomaterial information by pulling data from a broad collection of publicly available nanomaterial resources
  • Deliver authoritative and useable information on the biological and environmental interaction of well-characterized nanomaterials
  • Provide tools for matching and analyzing nanomaterial data
  • Improve the quality of nanomaterial information by driving standards of accepted procedures and reporting requirements
  • Promote the use of well-defined minimal information standards framework and common nanomaterial standards
  • Identify reliable information that can be used in regulatory decision making

The June 19, 2012 news item on Nanowerk provides more information,

“The quantity of publicly available literature on nanotechnology is staggering, but until now there has not been a centralized authoritative resource dedicated to nanotechnology research and its implications to biological and environmental systems,” said Michele Ostraat, Ph.D., senior director of the Center for Aerosol and Nanomaterials Engineering at RTI and the project’s principal investigator. “This registry will provide a valuable resource for nanotechnology stakeholders to find and investigate nanomaterials across diverse test methods, protocols and data sources in this field.”

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the registry is designed to improve the quality of and standardization of available methods regarding nanomaterials. This resource will also help researchers create new models, standards and manufacturing methods for nanomaterials and accelerate the development and evaluation of nanomaterials for biomedical and environmental applications.

I have posted about RTI International in the past, most recently in a May 2, 2011 posting.

Kenya and nanotechnology

I found this item about a nanomedicine development in Kenya via Thailand’s National Nanotechnology center (NANOTEC). Excerpted from the NANOTEC news item, Kenya: Blood to Be Used As Medicine,

Kenyan research institutes, in conjunction with the United States-based Strathmore University, recently started a nanotechnology drug development initiative in East and Central Africa, with an aim to reengineer current malaria and HIV drugs to make them more effective and revolutionary. Kenya has also joined a corroborative initiative with South Africa in the development of nanomedicine.

There is also an August 29,2011 article about this development written by Gatonye Gathura and Gitonga Marete for the allAfrica.com website,

Last month, Kenyan research institutions led by Strathmore University [private university in Kenya] started what could be the most interesting nano drug development initiative in East and Central Africa.

Led by Dr Barnards Ogutu, a researcher at Strathmore University, the effort in collaboration with Kenyan Medical Research Institute and the African Centre for Clinical Trials could see Kenya start reengineering current malaria and HIV drugs to make them more effective and revolutionary.

“We now know how to deliver drugs that are less toxic, more effective and which last in the body for a longer time meaning one may be required to take medication less regularly,” say Dr Ogutu.

Since it is required that a country which develops a drug must start human clinical trials on its own population, the group has identified a six bed unit at the Kenya Medical Research Institute for the purpose.

Unfortunately, there aren’t more details about how the scientists are reengineering the malaria and HIV drugs.

Science education for children in Europe, so what’s happening in BC?

I’ve been informally collecting information about children’s science education for a few months when yesterday there was a sudden explosion of articles (well, there were three) on the subject.

First off, a science game was launched by the European Commission titled Power of Research. From the March 2, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

A new strategy browser game – the “Power of research” – is officially launched. Supported by the European Commission, “Power of Research” has been developed to inspire young Europeans to pursue scientific careers and disseminate interesting up-to-date scientific information. Players assume the role of scientists working in a virtual research environment that replicates the situations that scientists have to deal with in the real world. The game, which can be played for free under www.powerofresearch.eu, is expected to create a large community of more than 100,000 players who will be able to communicate in real time via a state of the art interface.

They really do mean it when they say they’re replicating real life situations but the focus is on medical science research and I don’t think the game title makes that clear. Yes, there are many similarities between the situations that scientists of any stripe encounter in their labs but there are also some significant differences between them. In any event,

In “Power of Research” players can engage in “virtual” health research projects, by performing microscopy, protein isolation and DNA experiments, publishing research results, participating in conferences, managing high tech equipment and staff or request funding – all tasks of real researchers. The decisive game elements are communication, collaboration and competition: players can compete against each other in real time or collaborate to become a successful virtual researcher, win scientific awards or become the leader of a research institute.

The game connects the players to the real world. It is based on up-to-date science content and players work on real world research topics inspired by the FP7 health research programme that will be regularly updated. Popular science events, real research institutes, universities and European health research projects form part of the game. Players also have access to a knowledge platform, where they can search in a virtual library, zoom-into real scientific images and learn more about Nobel Prize laureates. European science institutions and hospitals will have the possibility to contribute to the game and provide details about their research.

I like the immersiveness and the game aspect of this project very much. I do wish they were a little more clear about exactly what kind of research the player will engage in. From the Power of Research About webpage,

Your researcher

* Become a famous researcher in “Power of Research”

* Research different topics through exciting research projects

* Play together with your friends and other players from all over the world

* Earn reputation, win science prizes and more …

* Gain special skills and knowledge in 9 different main research areas (like Brain, Paediatrics, …)

* Become a leader in your institute and lead it to international ranks

* The game is 100% free and needs no prior knowledge

Meanwhile, there are more projects. From the March 2, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Children who are taught how to think and act like scientists develop a clearer understanding of the subject, a study has shown.

The research project led by The University of Nottingham and The Open University has shown that school children who took the lead in investigating science topics of interest to them gained an understanding of good scientific practice.

The study shows that this method of ‘personal inquiry’ could be used to help children develop the skills needed to weigh up misinformation in the media, understand the impact of science and technology on everyday life and help them to make better personal decisions on issues including diet, health and their own effect on the environment.

The three-year project involved providing pupils aged 11 to 14 at Hadden Park High School in Bilborough, Nottingham, and Oakgrove School in Milton Keynes with a new computer toolkit named nQuire, now available as a free download for teachers and schools.

The pupils were given wide themes for their studies but were asked to decide on more specific topics that were of interest to them, including heart rate and fitness, micro climates, healthy eating, sustainability and the effect of noise pollution on birds.

The flexible nature of the toolkit meant that children could become “science investigators”, starting an inquiry in the classroom then collecting data in the playground, at a local nature reserve, or even at home, then sharing and analysing their findings back in class.

Immersive and engaging, yes? I have gone to the nQuire website and while I haven’t downloaded the software, I did successfully log in to the demonstration, in other words, the demonstration is not limited to a UK-based audience.

Meanwhile there’s this project but it seems to be different. It’s spelled differently, INQUIRE, and the focus is on the teachers. From a March 2, 2011 news item on Science Daily,

Thousands of schoolchildren will soon be asking the questions when inquiry-based learning comes to science classrooms across Europe, turning the traditional model of science teaching on its head. The pan-European INQUIRE programme is an exciting new teacher-training initiative delivered by a seventeen-strong consortium of botanic gardens, natural history museums, universities and NGOs.

Coordinated by Innsbruck University Botanic Garden, with support from London-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), INQUIRE is a practical, one-year, continual professional development (CPD) course targeted at qualified teachers working in eleven European countries. Its focus on inquiry-based science education (IBSE) reflects a consensus in the science education community that IBSE methods are more effective than current teaching practices.

Designed to reflect how students actually learn, IBSE also engages them in the process of scientific inquiry. Increasingly it is seen as key to developing their scientific literacy, enhancing their understanding of scientific concepts and heightening their appreciation of how science works. Whereas traditional teaching methods have failed to engage many students, especially in developed countries, IBSE offers outstanding opportunities for effective and enjoyable teaching and learning.

Biodiversity loss and global climate change, among the major scientific as well as political challenges of our age, are core INQUIRE concerns.

That final sentence fragment is a  little puzzling but I believe they’re describing their scientific focus.

My favourite of these projects is one I came across in December 2010 when children from a school in England had a research paper about bees published by the Royal Society’s Biology Letters. You still can access the paper (according to another blogger, Ed Yong, open access would only last to the new year in 2011 but they must have changed their minds). The paper is titled Blackawton bees and lists 30 authors.

1. P. S. Blackawton,
2. S. Airzee,
3. A. Allen,
4. S. Baker,
5. A. Berrow,
6. C. Blair,
7. M. Churchill,
8. J. Coles,
9. R. F.-J. Cumming,
10. L. Fraquelli,
11. C. Hackford,
12. A. Hinton Mellor,
13. M. Hutchcroft,
14. B. Ireland,
15. D. Jewsbury,
16. A. Littlejohns,
17. G. M. Littlejohns,
18. M. Lotto,
19. J. McKeown,
20. A. O’Toole,
21. H. Richards,
22. L. Robbins-Davey,
23. S. Roblyn,
24. H. Rodwell-Lynn,
25. D. Schenck,
26. J. Springer,
27. A. Wishy,
28. T. Rodwell-Lynn,
29. D. Strudwick and
30. R. B. Lotto

This is from the introduction to the paper,

(a) Once upon a time …

People think that humans are the smartest of animals, and most people do not think about other animals as being smart, or at least think that they are not as smart as humans. Knowing that other animals are as smart as us means we can appreciate them more, which could also help us to help them.

If you don’t ever read another science paper in your life, read this one. For the back story on this project, here’s Ed Yong on his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog (a Discover blog) in a December 21, 2010 posting,

“We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.”

This is the conclusion of a new paper published in Biology Letters, a high-powered journal from the UK’s prestigious Royal Society. If its tone seems unusual, that’s because its authors are children from Blackawton Primary School in Devon, England. Aged between 8 and 10, the 25 children have just become the youngest scientists to ever be published in a Royal Society journal.

Their paper, based on fieldwork carried out in a local churchyard, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage from with more flexibility than anyone had thought. It’s the culmination of a project called ‘i, scientist’, designed to get students to actually carry out scientific research themselves. The kids received some support from Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist at UCL [University College London], and David Strudwick, Blackawton’s head teacher. But the work is all their own.

Yong’s posting features a video of  the  i, scientist project mentioned in the posting, images, and, of course, the rest of the back story.

As it turns out one of my favourite science education/engagement projects is taking place right now (this is based in the UK), I’m a scientist, Get me out of Here!, from their website home page,

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! is an award-winning science enrichment and engagement activity, funded by the Wellcome Trust. It takes place online over a two week period. It’s an X Factor-style competition for scientists, where students are the judges. Scientists and students talk online on this website. They both break down barriers, have fun and learn. But only the students get to vote.

You can view the scientist/student conversations by picking a zone: Argon, Chlorine, Potassium, Forensic, Space, or Stem Cell. The questions the kids ask are fascinating, anything from What’s your favourite colour? to Do you think humans will evolve more? The conversations that ensue can be quite stimulating. This project has been mentioned here before in my June 15, 2010 posting, April 13, 2010 posting (scroll down) and  March 26, 2010 posting (scroll down).

ETA Mar. 3, 2011: The scientists get quite involved and can go to some lengths to win. Here’s Tom Hartley’s video from last year’s (2010) event,

I find the contrast between these kinds of science education/engagement projects in the UK and in Europe and what seems to be a dearth of these in my home province British Columbia (Canada) to be striking. I’ve commented previously on BC’s Year of Science initiative currently taking place in a Dec. 30, 2010 posting where I was commenting on a lack of science culture in Canada. Again, I applaud the initiative while I would urge that in future a less traditional and top/down approach is taken. The Europeans and the British are making science fun by engaging in imaginative and substantive ways. Imagine what getting a paper published in a prestigious science journal does for you (regardless of your age)!

Nanotechnology Occupational Health & Safety webcast with Dr. Kristin Kulinowski and others

From a posting by Karen on Science Buzz,

An online seminar, “Understanding Nanotechnology Safety”, will be webcast on May 27, 2010, at 1:00 U.S. EDT and is intended for anyone concerned about the potential health hazards of exposure to nanoengineered materials.

Small Times is sponsoring this occupational health and safety-oriented seminar which features, Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, “… Faculty Fellow in the Department of Chemistry at Rice University and Director for External Affairs for the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN). She currently serves as the Director of the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON), an international, multi-stakeholder organization whose mission is to develop and communicate information regarding potential environmental and health risks of nanotechnology thereby fostering risk reduction while maximizing societal benefit,” from her page on the Rice University website.

You can go here to register (there is a fee). I don’t know if they’ve extended their early registration discount beyond May 10 2010 but it might be worth trying.

Other presenters include (from Science Buzz),

Presenters include: Mark Bünger Research Director, Lux Research; Walt Trybula, Director of the Nanomaterials Application Center, Texas State University-San Marcos; Nina Horne, Invited Expert; and, Dr. Antonietta M. Gatti Ph.D., Experimental Physics University of Bologna, Italy.

Nanomaterials and health: the good, the bad, and the ugly?

One of the things I’ve noticed about the nanomaterials safety debate is how quickly it devolves to:  nanomaterials are good (some media reporters, business and corporate lawyers) vs nanomaterials are bad (some media reporters and civil society groups). Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about nanomaterials and their possible effects on health and the environment but there is enough evidence to support a single position if you’re willing discount evidence that doesn’t support your case. There are even people (pro and con) who will use evidence that doesn’t support their case very well unless they leave out details.

Take for example, this interview with Pat Roy Mooney (executive director of the ETC Group) at the Elevate Festival, October 2009 in Austria. Much of what he has to say is quite right (more work needs to be done to ensure safety) but you might get the impression that all this nanotechnology research that’s been talked about has resulted only in consumer products such as sunscreens and cosmetics. At about 4 mins., 15 secs., the reporter challenges Mooney and points out that the research may be very helpful in cleaning water (vital in some areas of the world) and could have other benefits. Mooney concedes the point, grudgingly.

Oddly, Mooney spends quite a bit of time suggesting that gold nanoparticles are a problem. That may be  but the more concerning issue is with silver nanoparticles which are used extensively in clothing and which wash off easily. This means silver nanoparticles are ending up in the water supply and in our fish populations. Studies with zebrafish strongly suggest far more problems with silver nanoparticles than gold nanoparticles. You can check this paper (which compares the two nanoparticles), this paper (about silver only) and this paper (about silver only) or run a search.

Mooney goes on to describe problems with other nanomaterials that I’m unfamiliar with, but I don’t know how far I can trust the information he’s giving me.

Mooney isn’t the only one who likes to remove nuance and shading. In a recent interview on the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel website, one of the interview subjects, William S. Rogers, Jr., essentially dismisses concerns about carbon nanotubes with this:

Rogers: Before the EPA announcement in January, 2010 concerning the proposed SNUR, a series of studies was done beginning in the United Kingdom with a study led by Poland, et al. (2008). That study involved the injection of multi-walled nanotubes into the abdomen of mice, the mucosal lining of which is identical to the mesothelium of the pleura or chest. The injection directly into the abdomen was intended to simulate exposure of the mesothelium in the chest due to inhalation exposure. Approximately 90 days later they examined the biological changes who had taken place as a result of exposure of the abdominal mesolthelial lining to the carbon nanotubes. They reportedly found evidence of inflammation that was consistent with the type of inflammation that had traditionally been recognized in people who had inhalation exposure to asbestos fibers and who later developed mesothelioma. They did not find actual mesothelioma in the mice, but rather what were thought to be precursors to such cancers. The result of publication of these findings was an alarmist reaction that carbon nanotubes posed a danger to humans analogous to that of asbestos fibers. This became headline news.

Up to this point I could agree with him, but now Rogers goes on to point out the study’s shortcomings,

The problem with the study was that the mice were exposed to massive doses of nanotubes by injection, which is not a natural or likely cause of human exposure. The test methodologies were a poor analog for what likely human exposure would be in any setting. Many commentators criticized the study’s findings and suggested that its conclusions about a potential relationship between carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibers was flawed because it rested largely on their shape similarity (long and thin); however, for the last two years there has been talk in the popular media about whether the risks associated with all nanomaterials are akin to those associated with asbestos fibers. The only similarities between carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibers is their long aspect ratio, unlike other nanomaterials. There has been more focus on carbon nanotube toxicity than on other nanomaterial substances, which has percolated up to the EPA. EPA has now decided to treat carbon nanotubes separately from other nano-objects.

Rogers fails to mention that this was a pilot study which was intended to lay the basis for further research. Dr. Andrew Maynard, one of the authors of the study, noted in a March 26, 2009 posting on his blog (2020 Science) further work had been done,

I’m looking at an electron microscope image of a carbon nanotube – as I cannot show it here, you’ll have to imagine it. It shows a long, straight, multi-walled carbon nanotube, around 100 nanometers wide and 10 micrometers long. There is nothing particularly unusual about this. What is unusual is that the image also shows a section of the lining of a mouse’s lung. And the nanotube is sticking right through the lining, like a needle through a swatch of felt.

The image was shown at the annual Society of Toxicology meeting in Baltimore last week, and comes from a new study by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on the impact of inhaled multi-walled carbon nanotubes on mice. [You can find out more about the NIOSH study here]

It’s highly significant because it takes scientists a step closer to understanding whether carbon nanotubes that look like harmful asbestos fibers, could cause asbestos-like disease…

Both the carbon nanotube studies mentioned here are studies of long, multi-walled carbon nanotubes. This distinction is important as substances at the nanoscale can behave differently from each other depending on their shape and size. Both Maynard and the NIOSH researchers suggest that more study is required but clearly the evidence is mounting.

Interestingly, the Good Nano Guide (GNG)* page on carbon nanotubes mentions the Poland study but not the NIOSH Study. The page also notes that at least one study indicates issues with single-walled and multi-walled carbon nanotubes as well as C60 (fullerenes). I wonder if there’s a policy about including only studies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

(*a ‘best practices for nanomaterials’ wiki hosted by the International Council on Nanotechnology ETA (April 12, 2010: From Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, “As to your question about our policy for posting information at the GNG, there is no policy that states we only publish peer-reviewed papers.” Dr. KK has offered this and  more information about the GNG in the comments.)

The media also are playing a role in this discussion. I’ve noted before Andrew Schneider’s nanotechnology series for AOL News, from his article Obsession with Nanotech Growth Stymies Regulators,

Separately, the NIOSH team discovered that beyond the well-documented lung damage that comes from inhalation of carbon nanotubes, [emphasis mine] those heavily used carbon structures were causing inflammation of the brain in the test animals.

Except for the fact that “well-documented lung damage that comes from inhalation” is an over statement, Schneider’s article is a good read although as I’ve noted elsewhere I don’t know how far to trust his information. [ETA: April 21, 20010, Schneider also fails to note the the type of carbon nanotube (likely the long, multi-walled ones) on which he bases his unsubstantiated claim. ]

After writing all this, I’m torn. On the one hand,  I do think that if people like Schneider and Mooney had their way, none of us would be eating potatoes, tomatoes, or eggplants. After all, they’re members of the nightshade family and the ill effects of ingesting other members of that family, belladonna (deadly nightshade) and datura (jimson weed), are well documented. On the other hand, folks like William Rogers are all too willing dismiss some very troubling research as their clients strive to bring products to market, seemingly regardless of any consequences.

ETA: Happy Weekend!