Tag Archives: toxicity

Glove sensors and toxic substances

Gloves that change colour as a signal you’re handling toxic substances have been developed by a research team at  the Fraunhofer Institute according to a May 2, 2013 Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT news release (also on EurekAlert as a re-issued June 7, 2013 news release),

Employees in chemical production, the semiconductor industry or in laboratories are frequently exposed to harmful substances. The problem: Many of these aggressive substances are imperceptible to human senses, which makes handling them so risky. That’s why there is a broad range of solutions that employers can use to protect their staff from hazardous substances – from highly sensitive measuring equipment to heat imaging cameras. Soon, this spectrum will be enhanced by one more clever solution that is easy to handle, and that dispenses with a power supply. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Regensburg have engineered a glove that recognizes if toxic substances are present in the surrounding air.

Here’s an image of the glove,

The sensor glove turns blue in the presence of hazardous substances. (© Fraunhofer EMFT)

The sensor glove turns blue in the presence of hazardous substances. (© Fraunhofer EMFT)

The news release provides more details,

The protective glove is equipped with custom-made sensor materials and indicates the presence of toxic substances by changing colors. In this regard, the scientists adapted the materials to the corresponding analytes, and thus, the application. The color change – from colorless (no toxic substance) to blue (toxic substance detected), for example – warns the employee immediately. …

….

The warning signal is triggered by an indicator dye integrated into the glove that reacts to the presence of analytes, in this case, the toxic substances. The experts at EMFT used a variety of techniques in order to furnish textiles with sensor-activated dyes. The sensor-activated dyes are applied to the clothing with the customary dye and print process, for example, by affixing them in an immersion bath. Previously, the researchers used targeted chemical modification to adapt the color molecules to the fiber properties of the respective textile. Alternatively, the textiles can also be coated with sensor particles that are furnished with sensor dyes. For this purpose, the scientists integrated the dye molecules either into commercial pigments or they built them up on an entirely synthetic basis. The pigments are then manufactured according to the customary textile finishing process, for instance, the sensor particles are also suitable for silkscreening. “Which version we opt for depends on the requirements of the planned application,” says Trupp [Dr. Sabine Trupp, head of the Fraunhofer EMFT Sensor Materials group].

The challenge lies foremost in the tailored development of sensor dyes. “The dye molecule must detect a specific analyte in a targeted manner – only then will a chemical reaction occur. Moreover, the dye must adhere securely; it cannot disappear due to washing. We aim for the customer’s preferences in the color selection as well. All of these aspects must be kept in mind when developing the molecule and pigment properties,” explains Trupp.

The technology could be extended to do more and could be adapted for other applications (from the news release),

The expert already has new ideas about how the solution could be developed further. For example, a miniaturized sensor module, integrated into textiles, could record toxic substances, store the measurement data and even transmit them to a main unit. This way, you could document how frequently an individual within a hazardous environment was exposed to poisonous concentrations over a longer period of time.

The researchers also envision other potential applications in the foodstuffs industry: In the future, color indicator systems integrated into foils or bottle closures are intended to make the quality status of the packaged foods visible. Because the sell-by date does not represent a guarantee of any kind. Foodstuffs may often spoil prematurely – unnoticed by the consumer – due to a packaging error, or in the warehousing, or due to disruptions in the refrigeration chain. Oil-based and fat-containing products are specifically prone to this, as are meats, fish and ready meals.

The notion that food packaging could be designed to include sensors that alert consumers and retailers about product spoilage is not new and was mentioned recently and briefly in my Mar. 25, 2013 posting which featured excerpts from an interview with biotechnologist Christoph Meili about nanotechnology-enabled food packaging.

NanoSustain published four case studies: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, carbon nanotubes, and nanocellulose

A May 17, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlight a European Commission-funded project, NanoSustain and its publication of a fact sheet and four case studies,,

NanoSustain, a €2.5 million NMP small collaborative project (2010-2013) funded by the European Union under FP7, has published a fact sheet and four case studies addressing these issues.

How do nanotechnology-based products impact human health and the environment?
Can they be recycled?
Can they be safely disposed of?
How can you find out?

The March 20, 2013 NanoSustain news release, which originated the news item, goes on to explain,

… the EC-funded NanoSustain project has been developing new sustainable solutions through an investigation of the life-cycle of nanotechnology-based products, in particular the physical and chemical characteristics of materials, hazard and exposure aspects, and end-of-life disposal or recycling to determine the fate and impact of nanomaterials.

A summary of the different materials and products tested within NanoSustain:

• Case Study #1: Titanium dioxide for paints
• Case Study #2: Zinc oxide for glazing products
• Case Study #3: Carbon nanotubes epoxy resins for plastics
- for structural or electrical/antistatic applications
• Case Study #4: Nanocellulose for advanced paper applications

Information about the individual experimental approaches

Descriptions of the different techniques developed

How these techniques have been successfully applied in physical-chemical characterisation; life-cycle analysis; final disposal; recycling.

Getting access to the case case studies and the fact sheet requires filling out a form but once you’ve done that you get instant access to the materials.

Here’s some information from EuroSustain’s fact sheet,

Factsheets

Analytical Techniques

Development of sustainable solutions for nanotechnology-based products based on hazard characterization and LCA1 The primary goal of the NanoSustain project is to develop new technical solutions for the sustainable design and use, recycling and final treatment of selected nanotechnology-based products.

To achieve this the project has the following objectives: 1) to assess the hazard of selected nanomaterials based on a comprehensive data survey and generation concerning their physicochemical (PC) and toxicological properties, exposure probabilities, etc., and the adaptation, evaluation, validation and use of existing analytical, testing and life-cycle assessment (LCA) methods; 2) to assess the impact of selected products during their life cycle in relation to material and energy flows (LCA); 3) to assess possible exposure routes and risks associated with the handling of these materials, their transformation and final fate; and 4) to explore the feasibility and sustainability of new technical solutions for end-of=life processes, such as reuse/recycling, final treatment or disposal.

Within NanoSustain an assessment has been made of the PC properties, exposure and toxicity, energy and material inputs and outputs at relevant stages of a material or product’s life-cycle. This means: material production, processing, manufacturing, use, transportation, and end-of-life (recycling/disposal). At each stage potential risks to human health and the environment have also been assessed, through a number of experimental models and test systems using materials that would be expected to be released from products containing nanomaterials.

Four nanomaterials were investigated that either already feature in commercial products or are expected to be commercialized on a large scale: titanium dioxide (TiO2) in paint, zinc oxide (ZnO) as a coating for glass, multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) in epoxy resins, and nanocellulose in paper.

Detailed information on the nanomaterials have been summarized in internal project material datasheets (MDS), and will be made available as part of peer-reviewed publications on release studies and toxicological investigations. [emphases mine]

Having looked at the four case studies, each of which is two pages, I would describe them as teasers. There’s not a lot of information in them as to the results of the testing which makes sense when you see that they will be publishing in various publications.

I find the inclusion of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and carbon nanotubes for life-cycle assessments easily understandable as they  have been integrated into many consumer products. However, it’s my understanding that nanocellulose has not reached that level of product integration. Still, given the number of times I’ve been told this is a ‘safe’ product, it’s interesting to see what NanoSustain has to say about its toxicity (from the NanoSustain’s nanocellulose case study),

Work in NanoSustain has provided new data and information on the physicochemical properties, potential human and environmental hazard and risk associated with relevant stages of the life-cycle of nanocellulose based products as well as on the overall energy and material input/output that may happen during manufacturing, use and disposal. Initial results indicate that the nanocellulose degrades efficiently under standard composting conditions, but does not in aquatic environments. Furthermore nanocellulose does not demonstrate any ecotoxicity. Unfortunately nanocellulose forms a gel when suspended in media for inhalation studies, and so no toxicology experiments could be performed (as for the other engineered nanomaterials studied in NanoSustain). Final results will be made available once published in peer-reviewed journals.

I have written many times about nanocellulose, a topic featuring some interesting and confusing nomenclature and taking this opportunity to highlight a couple of responses from folks who took the time to clarify things for me (from my Aug. 2, 2012 posting),

KarenS says:

Hi Maryse!

From my understanding, nanocrystaline cellulose (NCC), cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), cellulose whiskers (CW) and cellulose nanowhiskers (CNW) are all the same stuff: cylindrical rods of crystalline cellulose (diameter: 5-10 nm; length: 20-1000 nm). Cellulose nanofibers or nanofibrils (CNF), on the contrary, are less crystalline and are in the form of long fibers (diameter: 20-50 nm; length: up to several micrometers).

There is still a lot of confusion on the nomenclature of cellulose nanoparticles, but nice explanations (and pictures!) are given here (and also in other papers from the same conference):

http://www.tappi.org/Downloads/Conference-Papers/2012/12NANO/12NANO49.aspx

and there’s this from my Sept. 26, 2012 posting,

Gary Chinga Carrasco says:

The definition of cellulose nanofibrils as “diameter: 20-50 nm; length: up to several micrometers)” is somewhat simplified. For terminology on MFC terms you may want to take a look at: http://www.nanoscalereslett.com/content/6/1/417

Bringing this piece back to where I started, I look forward to seeing the NanoSustain case studies published with more details in the future.

Note: Since the folks at NanoSustain are likely using their form to collect data, I’m not linking back to the factsheet or nanocellulose case study as I would usually. So, if you want to look at the material, you do need to register via the form.

Beginner’s guide to carbon nanotubes and nanowires

There’s a very nice Apr. 11, 2013  introductory article by David L. Chandler for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) news office) about carbon and other nanotubes and nanowires,

The initial discovery of carbon nanotubes — tiny tubes of pure carbon, essentially sheets of graphene rolled up unto a cylinder — is generally credited to a paper published in 1991 by the Japanese physicist Sumio Ijima (although some forms of carbon nanotubes had been observed earlier). Almost immediately, there was an explosion of interest in this exotic form of a commonplace material. Nanowires — solid crystalline fibers, rather than hollow tubes — gained similar prominence a few years later.

Due to their extreme slenderness, both nanotubes and nanowires are essentially one-dimensional. “They are quasi-one-dimensional materials,” says MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering Silvija Gradečak: “Two of their dimensions are on the nanometer scale.” This one-dimensionality confers distinctive electrical and optical properties.

For one thing, it means that the electrons and photons within these nanowires experience “quantum confinement effects,” Gradečak says. And yet, unlike other materials that produce such quantum effects, such as quantum dots, nanowires’ length makes it possible for them to connect with other macroscopic devices and the outside world.

The structure of a nanowire is so simple that there’s no room for defects, and electrons pass through unimpeded, Gradečak explains. This sidesteps a major problem with typical crystalline semiconductors, such as those made from a wafer of silicon: There are always defects in those structures, and those defects interfere with the passage of electrons.

H/T Nanowerk Apr. 11, 2013 news item. There’s more to read at the MIT website and I recommend this as a good beginner’s piece since the focus is entirely on what carbon nanotubes and nanowires are , how they are formed, and which distinctive properties are theirs. You can find some of this information in the odd paragraph of a news release touting the latest research but I’m very excited to find this much explanatory material in one place.

Another very good explanatory piece, this one focused on carbon nanotubes and risk, is a video produced by Dr. Andrew Maynard for his Risk Bites series. I featured and embedded it in my Mar. 15, 2013 posting. titled, The long, the short, the straight, and the curved of them: all about carbon nanotubes.  You can also find the video in Andrew’s Mar. 14, 2013 posting on his 2020 Science blog where he also writes about the then recently released information from the US National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety on carbon nanotubes and toxicity.

Looking blue? Maybe it’s silver nanoparticles

Looking blue can mean feeling sad or it can indicate that you have argyria, a condition caused by ingesting too much silver. An Oct. 29, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about research on argyria taking place at Brown University reveals the latest insight on the cause for this condition,

Researchers from Brown University have shown for the first time how ingesting too much silver can cause argyria, a rare condition in which patients’ skin turns a striking shade of grayish blue.

“It’s the first conceptual model giving the whole picture of how one develops this condition,” said Robert Hurt, professor of engineering at Brown and part of the research team. “What’s interesting here is that the particles someone ingests aren’t the particles that ultimately cause the disorder.”

Scientists have known for years argyria had something to do with silver. The condition has been documented in people who (ill advisedly) drink antimicrobial health tonics containing silver nanoparticles and in people who have had extensive medical treatments involving silver. Tissue samples from patients showed silver particles actually lodged deep in the skin, but it wasn’t clear how they got there.

As it turns out, argyria is caused by a complex series of chemical reactions, Hurt said. His paper on the subject, authored with Brown colleagues Jingyu Liu, Zhongying Wang, Frances Liu, and Agnes Kane, is published in the journal ACS Nano (“Chemical Transformations of Nanosilver in Biological Environments” [behind a paywall]).

The Oct. 25, 2012 Brown University news release (which originated the news item) provides more detail,

Hurt and his team have been studying the environmental impact of silver, specifically silver nanoparticles, for years. They’ve found that nanosilver tends to corrode in acidic environments, giving off charged ions — silver salts — that can be toxic in large amounts. Hurt’s graduate student, Jingyu Liu (now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology), thought those same toxic ions might also be produced when silver enters the body, and could play a role in argyria.

To find out, the researchers mixed a series chemical treatments that could simulate what might happen to silver inside the body. One treatment simulated the acidic environment in the gastrointestinal tract; one mimicked the protein content of the bloodstream; and a collagen gel replicated the base membranes of the skin.

They found that nanosilver corrodes in stomach acid in much the same way it does in other acidic environments. Corrosion strips silver atoms of electrons, forming positively charged silver salt ions. Those ions can easily be taken into the bloodstream through channels that absorb other types of salt. That’s a crucial step, Hurt said. Silver metal particles themselves aren’t terribly likely to make it from the GI tract to the blood, but when they’re transformed into a salt, they’re ushered right through.

From there, Hurt and his team showed that silver ions bind easily with sulfur present in blood proteins, which would give them a free ride through the bloodstream. Some of those ions would eventually end up in the skin, where they’d be exposed to light.

To re-create this end stage, the researchers shined ultraviolet light on collagen gel containing silver ions. The light caused electrons from the surrounding materials to jump onto the unstable ions, returning them to their original state — elemental silver. This final reaction is ultimately what turns patients’ skin blue. The photoreaction is similar to the way silver is used in black and white photography [emphasis mine]. When exposed to light, silver salts on a photographic film reduce to elemental silver and darken, creating an image.

While I find the notion that the body’s reaction to silver is similar to the processing of silver in black and white photography, it’s the discussion about toxicity that most interests me. The scientists at Brown are suggesting that   standard ‘ingestable’ silver could be more dangerous than silver nanoparticles when they are consumed in the body,

This research, however, “would be one piece of evidence that you could treat nanoparticles in the same way as other forms of silver,” Hurt says.

That’s because the bioavailable form of silver — the form that is absorbed into the bloodstream — is the silver salt that’s made in the stomach. Any elemental silver that’s ingested is just the raw material to make that bioavailable salt. So ingesting silver in any form, be it nano or not, would have basically the same effect, Hurt said.

“The concern in this case is the total dose of silver, not what form it’s in,” Hurt said. “This study implies that silver nanoparticles will be less toxic than an equivalent amount of silver salt, at least in this exposure scenario [emphasis mine].”

This research provides more evidence supporting Dr. Andrew Maynard’s contention that creating definitions and regulations for nanomaterials based on size may not be the best approach. Here’s his response to my question (in an Oct. 24, 2011 posting) about the then newly adopted Health Canada definition (which includes size) for nanomaterials,

The problem is that, while the Health Canada is a valiant attempt to craft a definition based on the current state of science, it is still based on a premise – that size within a well defined range is a robust indicator of novel risk – that is questionable [emphasis mine].  Granted, they try to compensate for the limitations of this premise, but the result still smacks of trying to shoehorn the science into an assumption of what is important.

One can only wait as the evidence continues to mount on one side or the other. In the meantime, I don’t one can ever go wrong with BB King, one of the great blues guitar players (Blues Boys Tune),

Toxicology convo heats up: OECD releases report on inhalation toxicity testing and Nature Nanotechnology publishes severe critique of silver toxicity overanalysis

This has to be one of the rawest reports I’ve seen and that’s not a criticism. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has released no. 35 in its Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials titled, INHALATION TOXICITY TESTING: EXPERT MEETING ON POTENTIAL REVISIONS TO OECD TEST GUIDELINES AND GUIDANCE DOCUMENT.

This report is the outcome of a meeting which took place in fall 2011 according to the July 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The expert meeting on Inhalation Toxicity Testing for Nanomaterials was held on 19-20 October 2011 in The Hague, hosted by the Netherlands, with the aim of discussing the results of the OECD Sponsorship Programme (under the responsibility of SG3) on this specific topic and addressing issues relevant to inhalation toxicity. Fifty experts from the WPMN as well as the OECD Working Group of the National Coordinators for the Test Guidelines programme (WNT) participated in the meeting.

This is a partial list of recommendations from the report,

Recommendations raised by the speakers for the discussion

7. Various recommendations were raised by the speakers that served as points for discussion. These recommendations do not necessarily reflect a general agreement. …

• “Provide explicit guidance for the generation of aerosols (sample preparation) based on the exposure scenario”. Hans Muijser

• “Generation of a test atmosphere should have workplace characteristics, but should be adapted to adjust for rodent respirability”. Günter Oberdörster

• “A choice for a dry aerosol or a liquid aerosol should depend on the given test substance and planned test approach (hazard- or risk driven)”. Otto Creutzenberg

• “Aerosol characterization should include size distribution, mass, number and morphology of the material”. Günter Oberdörster

• “Mass concentration is not sufficient for comparison of nanomaterials of the same chemical composition”. Flemming Cassee

• “Dry powders will appear as agglomerate upon aerosolization, which needs to be addressed in the sample preparation guidelines”. Flemming Cassee

• “Dissolution behaviour of the test substance should be assessed in physiological fluids mimicking various lung-specific pH ambiences (neutral, acid)”. Otto Creutzenberg

• “Data analysis should include interpretation of aerosol characteristics, NOAEL, risk assessment implications, mode of action and a strategy for dosimetric extrapolation to humans. The inclusion of biokinetic data is important”. Günter Oberdörster

• “Include biokinetics in the guidance, since different distribution patterns in the whole organism are likely dependent on physicochemical characteristics of nanoparticle aerosols and the dose at the target site will therefore be different. This will allow the assessment of accumulation of nanomaterials in the body at low exposure levels and long-term exposure. A way to perform it is by radiolabelled materials, chemical elemental analysis to determine organ concentrations and transmission electron microscopy”. Wolfgang Kreyling. Others who have suggested inclusion of biokinetics or recognized the importance were Otto Creutzenberg, Frieke Kuper, Günter Oberdörster and David Warheit. (p. 13)

You actually see who made the recommendations! Speakers discussed carbon nanotubes, titanium dioxide, cerium oxide, zinc oxide and more, all of which you can read about in summary form in this 38 pp. report.

Meanwhile, Nature Nanotechnology has published an incendiary commentary about nanosilver and the latest request by the European Commission for another study.  Michael Berger has devoted a July 4, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article to the commentary,

A commentary by Steffen Foss Hansen and Anders Baun in this week’s Nature Nanotechnology (“When enough is enough”  [behind a paywall]) pointedly asks “when will governments and regulatory agencies stop asking for more reports and reviews, and start taking regulatory action?”

Hansen and Baun, both from the Technical University of Denmark’s Department of Environmental Engineering, take issue with yet another scientific opinion on nanosilver that has been requested by the European Commission in late 2011: “SCENIHR – Request for a scientific opinion on Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects and role in antimicrobial resistance” (pdf). Specifically, the EC wants SCENIHR to answer four questions under the general heading of ‘Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects, and role in antimicrobial resistance’.

“Most of these questions – and possibly all of them – have already been addressed by no less than 18 review articles in scientific journals, the oldest dating back to 2008, plus at least seven more reviews and reports commissioned and/or funded by governments and other organizations” Hansen tells Nanowerk. “Many of these reviews and reports go through the same literature, cover the same ground and identify many of the same data gaps and research needs.”

Here’s a prediction from Hansen and Baun as to what will be in the next report due in 2013  (from the Nature Nanotechnology commentary When enough is enough in 7, 409–411 (2012) published online  July 1, 2012 [Note: I have removed links and footnotes]),

… we predict that the SCENIHR’s upcoming review will consist of five main sections summarizing: the properties and uses of nanosilver; human and environmental toxicity; microbial resistance; risk assessment; and research needs. We also predict that the SCENIHR’s report will say something along the following lines: “Nanosilver is reportedly one of the most widely used nanomaterials in consumer products today but the scale of production and use is unknown. The antibacterial properties of nanosilver are exploited in a very diverse set of products and applications including dietary supplements, personal care products, powdered colours, textile, paper, kitchenware and food storage.” And like many previous reviews and reports, the new report is likely to cite the Consumer Product Inventory maintained by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

We acknowledge that answering the question of how to regulate the use of nanosilver is not easy given the different views of the different stakeholders in this debate and the complex regulatory landscape associated with the many applications of nanosilver. …

Arguably, we all want that the pros and cons of regulatory policy options be based on the best available science while taking broader socio-economical and ethical aspects into consideration before deciding on the appropriate regulatory measures concerning human and environmental exposure to nanosilver. Although it is common for independent scientific experts to be commissioned to gather, analyse and review the available scientific information, and to provide recommendations on how to address a given risk, we do not see the need for further reviews. It is time for the European Commission to decide on the regulatory measures that are appropriate for nanosilver. These measures should then be implemented wholeheartedly and their effectiveness monitored.

I predict this commentary will provoke some interesting responses and I will try to add the ones I can find to this posting as they become available.

ETA July 6, 2012: Dexter Johnson weighed in with his July 5, 2012 posting (Note: I have removed a link),

What may make the matter even worse is that we may already have a pretty substantial framework—in the US, at least—on which to base nanosilver regulations, which dates back to the 1950s. It concerned what was called at the time collodial silver, which is essentially what today is called nanosilver.

But getting back to current stagnant state of affairs, it’s hard to know exactly what’s causing the paralysis. It could be concern over implementing regulations in a depressed economy, or just a fear of taking a position. But in both these instances, the lack of action is making the situation worse. …

Environmental Nanoscience Initiative goes transatlantic (UK/US) in phase 2 and related ISO news

Launched in 2006, the Environmental Nanoscience Initiative (ENI) will see scientists from the US and UK collaborate on three projects in phase 2. From the Jan. 26, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

One of the ENI consortia will carry out a risk assessment for manufactured nanoparticles used in consumer products. Earlier research has focused on the toxicities – the degrees to which the nanoparticles can affect organisms – at the source. It has also shown that nanomaterials can affect marine organisms and change the properties of chemicals they come into contact with. For this project the researchers intend to evaluate the effect of the nanoparticles on people and aquatic animals at the point of exposure.

A second research team will investigate how the nanoparticles and nanotubes are transported into sewage treatment systems, into soil, surface waters and sediments, as well as their toxicity and absorption into a range of organisms such as bacteria, algae, invertebrates and fish.

The third group will examine the rate and behaviour of nanomaterials carried into soils used for agriculture and absorbed into plants, bacteria and invertebrates such as worms. They will also be generating new knowledge for use in risk assessment models using a unique pilot-scale waste water treatment facility.

Overall this research will provide key information about whether wildlife and humans are exposed to manufactured nanomaterials, and if so in what form.

The three Phase 2 consortium projects and the institutes involved are:

Risk assessment for manufactured nanoparticles used in consumer products (RAMNUC):
UK
– Imperial College, London; Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire.
USA – University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ; Duke University, Durham, NC.

Consortium for manufactured nanomaterial bioavailability & environmental exposure (nanoBEE):
UK
– University of Birmingham; Napier University, Edinburgh; Natural History Museum, London.
USARice University, Houston, TX; Clemson University, SC; University of California, Davis, CA. [emphasis mine]

Transatlantic initiative for nanotechnology and the environment (TINE):
UK – Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire; Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire; Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire; Lancaster University, Lancashire.
USA – University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY; Duke University, Durham, NC; Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

I first came across the news in a Jan. 26, 2011 article in the Houston (Texas) Business Journal which provides more details about the research team that includes professor Vicki Colvin from Rice University,

Colvin, a professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice, is heading up a team of three researchers in the U.S., which is collaborating with three U.K. researchers on the project.

Known as the Nanomaterial Bioavailability and Environmental Exposure Consortia, it will focus on creating a “plug and play” tool for regulators to input information about the size and type of the nanomaterial, local water chemistry, soil types and other factors. Once this data is in the system, regulators will be shown how much of the material could be safely released into a given area.

Coincidentally or not, the ENI announcement was made the same day as the International Standards Organization (ISO) announced a new standard for establishing nanoparticle inhalation toxicity testing. From the Jan. 26, 2011 ISO news release,

Dr. Peter Hatto, Chair of the committee that developed the standard explains, “With the rapid expansion of nanotechnology applications comes a growing risk of exposure to potentially toxic substances, especially for workers in nanotechnology-based industries. Moreover, if airborne nanoparticles were liberated from products, the general public could also be affected. Ensuring the safety of these particles is therefore paramount for the well-being of workers and consumers.”

Carefully monitored tests are used to establish the inhalation toxicity of airborne nanoparticles. The new standard, ISO 10808:2010, Nanotechnologies – Characterization of nanoparticles in inhalation exposure chambers for inhalation toxicity testing, helps ensure that the results of such tests are reliable and harmonized worldwide.

While these projects are distantly related (with the ENI focused on establishing possible risks associated with nanomaterials released  into soil and water and the ISO standard focused on developing parameters for standards for testing toxicity when nanoparticles are inhaled), this all suggests that we are learning to assess the impact of nanotechnology-enabled products and processes.

Canadian science policy conference has started; silver nanoparticles wash off your antibacterial socks

Rob Annan is reporting from the science policy conference taking place in Torontp, Oct. 28-30, 2009. (More info. about the conference here and Rob’s blog here with his comments and links to other commentaries.) From the 2nd keynote speaker’s (Bruce Alberts, scientist and editor-in-chief of Science magazine) speech as Rob reports,

“If you want your government interested in science and technology, send them to China”, he [Alberts] quipped. He pointed out that the Chinese Minister of Health, Chen Zhu, is a world-renowned molecular biologist who is reshaping his country’s health ministry and is employing many of the tools that served him well as a scientist. Alberts suggested that China’s embrace of science and its methods, the number of scientists and engineers in top roles in the Chinese government, and the role science is playing in the emerging Chinese economy, can’t help but convince other countries of its benefits – I’m [Rob Annan] not so sure…

Alberts also argued that to spread science in society, you need to spread scientists. Too few trained scientists – at the PhD level, he argued – enter other areas of society. Only by having trained scientists working as lawyers, journalists, and – especially – in government, can we expect science to play a broader role in society at large.

Alberts seems a bit fevered. I don’t disagree with the principle that it’s a good idea to have people with grounding in both sciences and other specialties. However, there does seem to be an underlying assumption about science and scientists and to make my point I’m going to flip his suggestion. Have the English majors, the social workers, the musicians, the lawyers, etc. take up science so that  society has more of a role in science. I don’t have time today to finish this but I will get back to it tomorrow.

Swiss scientists have published a study about silver nanoparticles being washed off in the laundry. There is a news item here or here.