Tag Archives: ICON

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.

Report on safe use of nanomaterials in UK university laboratories

Thanks to the July 1, 2013 notice on the International Council for Nanotechnology (ICON) website, I found this report, which concerns occupational health and safety practices of university researchers handling nanomaterials,

The use of Nanomaterials in UK Universities: an overview of occupational health and safety (Health and Safety Executive)


HSE wishes to increase its knowledge and understanding of the occupational use and manufacture of engineered nanoparticles in the UK. As part of this work, HSE has worked with The UK NanoSafety Group to gain an overview of the work with nanomaterials in a small number of UK universities.

The report is available for viewing here. I did take a look at it (all 48 pp.) and found that it was published in January 2013 and the authors are James Wheeler, Health and Safety Inspector, (Occupational
Hygiene) and Susan Polak, (COSHH and Chemical Carcinogens Unit) . From the report’s executive summary,

Overall, the feedback forms and the visits together have provided a good
insight into how nanomaterials are being used by some UK universities.

Research groups/university departments are on the whole more than adequately controlling exposure to nanomaterials in laboratories. They are generally following the COSHH [Control of substances hazardous to health] hierarchy of control and using management and engineering controls to control exposure, rather than relying on PPE and respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

The move in universities is towards dedicated nanotechnology centres. These centres act as a hub and set the health and safety standard for nanomaterial use within that university. When collaborating with other universities, the researchers from other universities have to follow the same standards otherwise they cannot have access to the centre. Poor standards of health and safety are considered unacceptable by the nanotechnology centres.

In all the universities visited there were usually one or two research groups that achieved a higher than average standard in health and safety and these groups were being used by the university safety officers as exemplars to other groups as to what could be achieved and encouraging them to achieve the same standards. As nanotechnology is a multi-disciplinary subject and collaborations are taking place between research groups/departments and between universities, this is seen as an aid to drive up the standards overall.

However, it was found that some research groups were not achieving adequate standards on some aspects of health and safety. In some cases no general risk or COSHH risk assessments had been carried out, information and training given was poor and the use of engineering controls was inadequate. (p. 4 PDF, p. iv print version)

Forms were sent to 115 UK universities. In the end, 76 forms from 19 universities were received back. In addition, visits were made to nine universities, two of which had not completed the forms. Researchers interviewed various parties at the nine universities, reviewed records, and checked the laboratories and the equipment in them.

Aside from the usual reasons for not filling forms, researchers found this,

Some universities found the feedback form difficult to complete. The concept of nanomaterials as a single entity created difficulties. At the time the feedback forms were distributed, there was no legal regulatory definition of a nanomaterial and there were roughly four classes of nanomaterials (colloid, quantum dots, wires or fibre) which did not behave the same in a biological context. The structure of the form did not take into account the possibility that a department might be working with more than one class of nanomaterial and did not allow for these to be dealt with separately.
Universities found it difficult to respond appropriately to Section 17 of the feedback form (i.e. number of days using nanomaterials). It is now apparent that the nature of research is such that work takes place as and when necessary, and researchers do not measure their activities in days per week, months or years.
The responses to Section 19, on the estimation of the hazards of nanomaterials, were widely inconsistent. The question set had focused exclusively on fibres and dusts, with the
implication that all nanomaterials were small particles, loosely described as dusts and fibres. However a major area of research reported was on nanomaterials in colloids or liquids. Colloids exist only in “solution” where particles are held apart by electrostatic forces. They are either purchased or made in-situ and the particles are rarely isolated. Perturbation of the supporting electrolyte (reducing the volume or the addition of salts etc.) leads to aggregation and the material is no longer ‘nano’. Hence questions 8 and 18, ‘Material form of the nanomaterial’, and ‘Disposal of nanomaterials’, respectively, became slightly contradictory.
As with some of the other Sections, the options for answering Section 20 on control measures were either ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’. However, containment was not always appropriate or required fo r the materials in use. Facilities might exist but the action identified might not be relevant to the specific case, so a greater use of open questions allowing the respondent to elaborate may have been more helpful. The feedback forms were filled in by a variety of people from, e.g. heads of department, lecturers, and researchers, and not necessarily the health and safety officer, so there may have been a lack of understanding of some of the health and safety terminology used. The feedback form was designed to be generic and some of the terminology was perhaps more appropriate for industry than universities. (p. 8 PDF, p. 4 print version)

This last bit I’m going to excerpt from the report features researchers’ perception of the occupational health and safety risks they face when handling nanomaterials,

The general perception of those working with nanomaterials as to whether there is a health risk is split with 36% considering that nanomaterials did present a risk and 37% that they did not. There is a perception that nanomaterials have not been tested extensively and, therefore a health risk may be present, particularly as all chemical materials represent some degree of hazard.
In most cases research groups considered that nanomaterials should be treated with caution as there was a lot of uncertainty about whether they were hazardous. However, if the work was al so carried out in fume cupboards with generally small amounts, or if nanomaterial was in a liquid or bound to a
substrate then the risk of exposure was considered to be minimal. (p. 36 PDF, p. 32 print version)
This is the first time I’ve seen an occupational health and safety report take into account the researchers’ health and their perceptions of their own risk when handling nanomaterials.

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.

Is Singapore navigating the ‘valley of death’ by creating a nanotech consortium?

Singapore’s new consortium appears to a be a solution to what’s been called the ‘valley of death’ or the ‘lab gap’. At least, that’s what I think it is since my understanding has been drawn from inference rather than direct knowledge.

Here’s a description of the technology and the consortium from the news item on Nanowerk,

Walls that are as colourful as a butterfly’s wing, new non-slip materials, adhesives that do not leave sticky residues, waterproof and anti-bacterial surfaces for everyday use? What’s more amazing is that these can be produced without using chemicals or potentially harmful, eco-unfriendly coatings but merely by carefully engineering the surface or ‘skin’ of materials using a unique method called nanoimprint technology (NIT). IMRE [IMRE Institute of Materials Research and Engineering] scientists have used the method, which involves making uniform, nanometer-sized structures to create a specifically patterned surface that produces a unique property. These often mimic natural surfaces, for example the structures found on lotus leaves so that the new materials are imbued with its waterproofing properties.

“The goal of ICON [Industrial Consortium on Nanoimprint] is to open up NIT’s many benefits to industries and to get them to adopt this versatile technique into some of their existing processes”, said Dr Low Hong Yee, Head of IMRE’s Patterning and Fabrication Group which is driving the consortium.

“ICON is a proactive way for research institutes like IMRE to give back to our stakeholders – industry and ultimately the community”, said Prof Andy Hor, Executive Director of IMRE. “We are confident in the potential of nanoimprint technology and are equally confident that industry will see results in their bottom lines by leveraging on this technology!”

Echoing these views, Prof Low Teck Seng, A*STAR’s Deputy Managing Director (Research), and Executive Director, Science and Engineering Research Council said, “A*STAR is keenly aware of our vast technological capabilities and the need for transferring these technologies to industry, which ultimately benefits the public at large. Industry consortia are but one of the many avenues A*STAR uses to shorten the route, and timeframe, that our research takes to reach your homes.”

In some ways this initiative reminds me of the move in Canada to give industry more access to university laboratories and equipment (at a cost) for industry’s research purposes.

This news item gives me the impression that Singapore is also having innovation issues,

The members of ICON will not only gain first-hand access to the advanced nanoimprint developments in A*STAR but will be able to work on joint, shared cost projects to develop new products and applications resulting in potentially huge savings in R&D costs and resources. Training of their manpower in nanoimprint techniques and tools as well as the prospect of networking with companies that cover the entire spectrum of nanopatterning services are sweeteners for membership.

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!