andrew schneider investigates

June 11, 2009

Health risks from silver nanoparticles a growing threat to consumers and workers.

Silver nanoparticles, untested for safety, are being used in a growing number of children’s toys, babies’ bottles, cosmetics, dishwashers, underwear and hundreds of other items.
A report issued today says that consumers and workers who make the products may be at risk.

Silver nano particles   Photo ACA

Silver nano particles Photo ACA

The report, authored by Friends of the Earth and Health Care Without Harm Europe, details what they call “the growing public health threat posed by nano-silver particles in consumer products.”

“What we’ve learned is alarming,” said Ian Illuminato, one of the report’s authors.

“Major corporations are putting nano-silver into a wide variety of consumer products with virtually no oversight, and there are potentially serious health consequences as a result. The workers who manufacture these products, the families that use them, and the environment are all at risk.”

Human consumption of silver is not new and medical historians have traced its health benefits back

Ian Illuminato, Friends of the Earth

Ian Illuminato, Friends of the Earth

more than a century. At that time, the literature reports, people had ready access to beneficial silver in their diet because it was plentiful in surface and ground waters.

“What we’re concerned about is when the silver is scaled to nano size because evidence shows that it is far more potent. That potency – the impact on human health – is what is we don’t yet know,” Illuminato told me.

His concern is shared by other scientists who also worry that nanosilver doesn’t distinguish between good and bad bacteria. It kills all bacteria, even the good bacteria that humans and animals need to survive.

“We are playing with fire, especially at a time when anti-bacterial resistance is an ever increasing medical problem globally,” said report co-author Dr. Rye Senjen, of Australia.

“Do we really need to coat cups, bowls and cutting boards, personal care products, children’s toys and infant products in nano-silver for ‘hygienic’ reasons?” he asked.

The  Korean manufacturer Samsung made the first clothes washer with a nanosilver-coated drum and said it would kill over 600 different bacteria.

Nanoparticles are one billionth of a meter in size or, as one scientist told me at a nano-in-food conference this week in California, “Slice a human hair lengthwise into a 100 slivers and a single one of those is what we’re dealing with. We are manipulating single molecules and atoms.”

Andrew Maynard

Andrew Maynard

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, one of the best known centers for nanotech policy research, presented testimony before Congress last year and cautioned that hundreds of products with nano particles are on the market, with three to five new ones added every week.

Andrew Maynard, the lead scientist for the Project, told me in an telephone interview from the Regulating Nanotechnology in Food and Consumer Products conference in Brussels yesterday, that the report raises some uncertainties that must be addressed.

“There is no indication that silver at the nano scale goes wild in the body. However, it is known that silver becomes more toxic at the nano level,” Maynard explained, adding, “That does not mean it always does more damage.

“More research must be done.”

A coalition of consumer protection, public health and environmental groups filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency demanding the agency halt the sale of consumer products containing silver nanoparticles

The petition called for the EPA to:

* Determine the potential human health and environmental hazards from nanosilver with nano-specific toxicity data requirements, testing and risk assessments.

* Clarify that nano-silver is a pesticide and thus must undergo the rigorous and extensive testing process involved in registering a pesticide. Moreover, products with nano-silver must carry a pesticide label.

* Take immediate action to prohibit the sale of nano-silver products as illegal pesticide products with unapproved health benefit claims.

The authors of the report say that EPA is not “doing near enough” to address the hazard.

“This report should be a kick in the pants to EPA to start fining companies that use nanosilver without going through the registration process,” Dr. Jennifer Sass, senior scientist and nano specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who is also speaking at the Brussel’s meeting told me in an email.

EPA says it is ready to take action if asked.

“The EPA is prepared to address the nanosilver issue but nobody has applied to the EPA with a product. It hasn’t happened,” said Dale Kemery, an agency spokesman.

Nanoized silver is not the only metal that worries regulators and the public health community. Carbon nanotubes, nano zerovalent iron, cerium oxide and others are on some government hot lists.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has ordered all manufacturers who manufacture, import, sell or use nano material with those metals to supply the department with extensive information on their source, use, transport, and disposal.

According to the EPA and FDA, they have no plans  to collect similar information.

The debate, to some extent, centers on semantics. Pesticides kill bugs and other things and their use is controlled by the government.

The Nanotechnology Industries Association and other trade groups insist that nanosilver is antimicrobial – it goes after germs – and is not a pesticide.


May 18, 2009

Nanoparticle use grows in consumer products; safety testing inadequate, experts say.

Filed under: FDA,Nanotechnology,Public health legislation,Worker Safety — Andrew Schneider @ 12:21

The exciting and potentially benefit-laden world of nanoparticles continues to expand at rates that surpass the growth of any technology in history. Many public health leaders plead for caution and additional research into the widespread human and environmental hazards that could exist with use of nanotechnology. They worry that far too little is being done.
Many of you have written to ask how many products based on nanotech are on the market now or are close to being released for sale. It is almost impossible to know with great accuracy.
Most corporations decline to comment, citing proprietary or competitive concerns. The federal government keeps no tally, and a friend of mine in the Food and Drug Administration says that’s a major mistake that someday will “bite us in the butt.”
There is one group that is watching nanotechnology more closely than anyone else. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is a partnership between the Pew Charitable Trust and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The project was formed in 2005 to address the social, political, and public safety aspects of nanotechnology.
The experts at the partnership acknowledge that their tallies are far from comprehensive, but they offer the best picture out there of what industry is doing with nanoparticles. And they offer the only inventory of consumer products around.

nano products
Here is one of their graphs and some of their facts:

The Consumer Products Inventory today lists 807 products, produced by 457 companies, located in 21 countries.

The inventory is growing fast: from 212 products when it was first released in March 2006, to 803 products in August 2008.

The largest category is health and fitness, including 126 cosmetics, 115 items of clothing, 153 personal care items, 83 types of sporting goods, 33 sunscreens and 40 water filters.
The inventory now includes products from many countries, including the United States, Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, Taiwan, Australia, Israel, Finland, Mexico, Switzerland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, Sweden, Singapore, Canada, and Italy.
The Washington –based researchers say U.S. based companies are marketing the most products (426), followed by companies in Asia (227), Europe (108), and elsewhere around the world (38).
I will try to post updates often on this topic. But here is a link to browse the project’s inventory database:

April 2, 2009

Here is another wonderful example of better living through nanotechnology. Maybe.

Filed under: Food Safety,Nanotechnology,Pesticides — Andrew Schneider @ 14:26

It sounds great on the surface as many ideas do.

Scientists at Cornell University think they’ve solved a widespread public health problem that endangers the health of farm workers and people who live near farms – the drifting of pesticides from the crops where they’re applied to the air that people breathe.

The researchers are encapsulating pesticides in biodegradable nanofibers.
The research team – Chunhui Xiang and Prof. Margaret Frey, an associate professor of fiber science in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology – say using the techniques will keep the pesticides intact until needed and minimize loss to drift or being washed away from the plants they are intended to protect.

Margaret Frey, an associate professor of fiber science in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and Chunhui Xiang, led the research.  File photo by Cornell University

Margaret Frey, an associate professor of fiber science in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and Chunhui Xiang, led the research. File photo by Cornell University

“Our technology will decrease the amount of pesticides applied, which is good for the environment,” said Xiang.

The researchers say the new technology also extends how long the pesticides remain effective and improves the safety of applications.

“The chemical is protected, so it won’t degrade from being exposed to air and water,” Frey said. “It also keeps the chemical where it needs to be and allows it to time-release.”

The nano delivery system is created by electrospinning solutions of cellulose, the pesticide and PLA – a polymer derived from cornstarch.

To find out if pesticides delivered this way could really work, another group working with Prof. Michael Hoffmann planted squares of pesticide-loaded fabrics with pole bean seeds in greenhouses on campus.

Pesticide delivered from the fabric effectively controlled white flies on the bean plants, he said.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” Frey said.

And that’s precisely what’s concerning many who worry about the safety of food and leads to obvious questions being raised:

*  Will the nonmaterial enter the flesh of the food it’s protecting?

*  Can it be washed off?

*  Can the residue of the pesticides be accurately measured?

“I wish I knew more about it,” says Dr, Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center, a food public advocacy group.

He says that progress in delaying the delivery of a pesticide will cut both ways,

“It will extend the time while the active ingredient is around, but it will also lower the dose available at any point in time, which means the total amount of pesticide delivered will need to be increased,” said Benbrook who was the director of the National Academies of Science’ agricultural board.

“The concept of delayed-release delivery of pesticides is seductive on many levels, but likely will pose new challenges and lead to a new generation of unintended consequences,” Benbrook added.

March 25, 2009

The use of nanotechnology in food and packaging soars enormously, but Europe beats the U.S. when it comes to demanding safety in using the technology.

Filed under: Nanotechnology,Public health legislation — Andrew Schneider @ 11:39

Food scientists that I’ve interviewed recently say that every major manufacturer of food products in the U.S. has either its own in-house team evaluating the use of nanotechnology or has contracted with outside experts for the knowledge.

The race is on to create these manmade nanoparticles – the size of atoms and molecules – and modify them to enhance the safety, taste, color, texture, nutritional value and shelf life of food.

Many food scientists are working on nanoparticles that will kill microbes that spoil or taint food, and I’m told that at least three labs in Europe and Japan are reportedly pursuing similar technology to signal the presence of salmonella, listeria and even E.coli.


My acquaintances in the Food and Drug Administration and on various Congressional committees say the government is doing little or nothing to ensure the safety of this technology.

I was at a conference two years ago when Mitchell Cheeseman, then-deputy director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, said the agency needed help in identifying potential safety concerns from nanotech food additives and dietary supplements. One researcher in the food additive office told me today “not much has happened because the nanotech wheel is not squeaking.”

The rest of the world appears to be taking it seriously.

For instance, food products using nanotechnology will not be permitted for sale in Ireland until the risks to consumers is better known, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recently told our FDA.

Just this week, the European Parliament called for caution to be used before food being produced using nanotechnology processes marketed.

According to a statement from the European Parliament, the European Food Safety Authority has been ordered to ensure the safety of all food produced with nanotechnology processes, and “specific risk assessments” must be approved and completed before the products can be sold.

In addition, the organization ordered labeling instructions that I won’t live long enough to see in the U.S.

They require that: “all ingredients present in the form of nanomaterials shall be clearly indicated in the list of ingredients. The names of the ingredients shall be followed by the word ‘nano’ in brackets.”

On the other side of the world, Australian food safety activists call for increasing “scant regulations governing the use of potentially harmful nanotechnology in food and food packaging,” reported the Australian Associated Press.

A new report from the consumer group “Choice,” quoted  by the Australian news agency, says an estimated 150 to 600 nanofoods and 400 to 500-nanofood packaging applications are in use around the world.

Nanotechnology involves structures as small as molecules, 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, which can have new and unexpected properties because their small size brings quantum effects into play and their larger relative surface area makes them more reactive.

Choice said there is also a lack of research into how nanoparticles in food react once inside the human body.

The government agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand does not require manufactured nanoparticles to be specifically labeled, the food safety group said.

March 20, 2009

New government study on possible health hazards from nanoparticles shows much more research is needed and quickly.

Filed under: Nanotechnology,Public health legislation,Worker Safety — Andrew Schneider @ 13:08

Those who care about public health and fear that our government isn’t paying enough attention to the potential hazards spawned by the massive explosion of nano technology have something to cheer. But also something that shows that a lot more research is needed into the new technology — and quickly.

The comfort should come from the knowledge that scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have completed the agency’s second study into the health effects of nanomaterial. The concern lies in the fact the research shows that the material moved easily from inside the lungs of test animals into the pleura, which is the tissue that surrounds the lungs.nioshicn

The findings are the first to demonstrate that carbon nanotubes aspirated by laboratory mice can actually migrate from the tiny structures in the lung called alveoli, which are critical for gas exchange, through the lungs to the pleura.

“This is important because the pleura is the tissue that can develop a form of cancer, malignant mesothelioma, after asbestos exposure, and multi-walled carbon nanotubes are durable fiber-like particles that share many features with asbestos fibers,” Dr. Ann Hubbs, one of the four scientists on the project told me today.

Research into commercial applications of nanoparticles is being pushed at an intensity never seen with any other technology, but examination of the health and safety implications to workers and the public has lagged significantly, especially in the U.S.

What worries many who have studied the new technology is that because of their infinitesimal size, nanoparticles can and do pass through the body’s traditional barriers and defense mechanisms. They are easily transported through the bloodstream, respiratory and gastrointestinal pathways into all organs, the brain and even individual cells.

Add to this the fact that nanoparticles are often more toxic than traditional products of the same chemical composition that have been used for decades.

There are thousands of unique nanostructures being developed by industry today. The material that the NIOSH team investigated is called multi-walled carbon nanotubes, or MWCNTs. These structures, according to NIOSH, show promise for various applications ranging from creating stronger, more durable building materials to improving cancer therapies.

However, as with other types of engineered nanomaterials, the potential occupational health implications of MWNCTs are not well understood.

In the testing at NIOSH’s Morgantown, W.Va. Laboratory, mice inhaled a small drop of liquid containing the nanotubes in a manner that closely resembles inhalation of the same material suspended in the air, such as an exposure that a worker might encounter.

Other investigators, overseas, have reported inflammation and mesothelioma of the abdominal lining after nanomaterial was injected into the lining of the abdominal cavity.

All of these studies reinforce the need to adopt a rigorous approach to controlling occupational exposures among workers during the production and use of the nanomaterial, NIOSH says.

NIOSH’s pioneering research was presented before the Society of Toxicology this week because of the importance of its findings, but the authors’ stress that the preliminary scientific findings demand that more work be done.

As the only government agency tasked with research on workplace illness and injury, NIOSH is leading the way in health studies on nanotech material.

In addition to Hubbs, who is a veterinary pathologist, the research was conducted by Drs. Vincent Castranova, chief of the Pathology and Physiology Research Branch in the Health Effects Laboratory Division; Hubbs; Dale Porter, a pulmonary toxicologist; and Robert Mercer, a bio-engineer.

For more information, here is a link to a NIOSH document Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology.

For updates Twitter: asinvestigates

May 20, 2008

health hazards of nanotechnology

Filed under: Environmental health issues,EPA,Nanotechnology,Public health legislation — Andrew Schneider @ 13:55

Two studies published in the past month have shown what many corporate-backed scientists said would never happen, but what most public health authorities have dreaded: the almost invisible world of nanotechnology can cause asbestos-like disease.

Andrew Maynard holding multi-walled carbon nanotubes

Today’s study, published in Nature Nanotechnolog, suggests some forms of carbon nanotubes � the very heart of most NT research – could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities, says Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and a co-author of the paper.

Researchers, led by Professor Kenneth Donaldson at the University of Edinburgh, examined the potential for long and short carbon nanotubes, long and short asbestos fibers, and carbon black to cause pathological responses known to be precursors of mesothelioma, Maynard explained.

Material was injected into the abdominal cavity of mice — a sensitive predictor of long fiber response in the lung lining.

“The results were clear,” says Donaldson. “Long, thin carbon nanotubes showed the same effects as long, thin asbestos fibers.”

Asbestos fibers can penetrate so deeply into the lungs that lungs’ built-in clearance mechanisms for getting rid of particles is thwarted.

“This study . . .looks at a specific nanoscale material expected to have widespread commercial applications and asks specific questions about a specific health hazard,” said Maynard.

The Japanese study, published last month, showed a similar link to mesothelioma.

Public health advocates are increasing their efforts to get the government to be more responsive to the potential hazards accompanying nanotechnology. On May 2, I posted a report in a coalition of consumer, health, and environmental groups demanding that the EPA use its pesticide regulation authority to stop the sale of numerous consumer products now using nano-sized versions of silver, called nano-silver.

“This is a wakeup call for nanotechnology in general and carbon nanotubes in particular,” says Maynard. “As a society, we cannot afford not to exploit this incredible material, but neither can we afford to get it wrong–as we did with asbestos.”

For more information on nanotechnology, I again point you to the blog of Dr. Jennifer Sass, who has been studying the health effects of NT for years.

May 2, 2008

Use of untested nanotechnology soars.

Filed under: Environmental health issues,EPA,Nanotechnology,Public health legislation — Andrew Schneider @ 17:35

It’s invisible. It’s called the wave of the future. It’s being used in thousands of products and processes and scores more applications are added to the list of uses every day. However, nanotechnology is pretty much unregulated by anyone, and of greater concern is that no one has shown that exposure to these sub-microscopic nanoparticles is safe.

In fact, a Japanese study released last week claims to have shown a link between nanoparticles and mesothelioma, a fatal lung disease almost always caused by asbestos exposure. The fact that the study is actually examining the health implications has been widely praised as needed, but the methodology used by the study’s authors has been denounced by others in the field.

However, I’m told that another “more comprehensive and realistic” study will be released in the next few weeks that also will document a health hazard caused by the use of nanoparticles. Let’s see what, if anything, our federal health protectors � NIH, EPA, OSHA and FDA – have to say about it.

But this week, a coalition of consumer, health, and environmental groups filed a legal petition with EPA demanding that the agency use its pesticide regulation authority to stop the sale of numerous consumer products now using nano-sized versions of silver, called nano-silver.

The petition was filed by the International Center for Technology Assessment, a non-profit public interest research group that focuses on technological impacts on society. The group said that manufacturers are infusing a large and diverse number of consumer products with the most common commercialized nanomaterial – nano-silver – for its enhanced “germ killing” abilities.

Advertisements claim that some nano-silver products can kill approximately 650 kinds of harmful germs and viruses and “kills bacteria in as little as 30 minutes.”

CTA says it has found more than 260 nano-silver products currently on the market, ranging from household appliances and cleaners to clothing, cutlery, and children’s toys to personal care products and coated electronics.

The group’s concern is that the release of this unique substance may be highly destructive to natural environments and raises serious human health concerns.

“These nano-silver products now being illegally sold are pesticides,” said George Kimbrell, CTA nanotech staff attorney. “Nano-silver is leeching into the environment, where it will have toxic effects on fish, other aquatic species and beneficial microorganisms.

“EPA must stop avoiding this problem and use its legal authority to fulfill its statutory duties.”

Nanotechnology deals in the atomic and molecular level and just as the size and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanoparticles can give them unique properties, the “tiny size, vastly increased surface area to volume ratio and high reactivity,” can also create unique and unpredictable human health and environmental, the petition contended.

The legal petition demands that the EPA regulate nano-silver as a unique pesticide that can cause new and serious impacts on the environment.

Among the demands in the 100-page petition are that EPA must regulate these nanotechnology products as new pesticides; require labeling of all products; assess health and safety data before permitting marketing; analyze the potential human health effects, particularly on children; and analyze the potential environmental impacts on ecosystems and endangered species.

Joseph Mendelson, CTA’s legal director, says “The law does not allow the (EPA) to stand idle while a new legacy of toxic pollution emerges.”

Two years ago, EPA said that it would regulate nano-silver products as pesticides, but the groups say the agency has done nothing.

The products come not only from the U.S., but are imported from the U.K., Canada, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, New Zealand, and Germany.

Also supporting the legal action was the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, ETC Group, Center for Environmental Health, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Clean Production Action, Food and Water Watch, the Loka Institute, the Center for Study of Responsive Law, and the Consumers Union.

Here is a link to the list of products submitted with the petition and to the full legal submission.

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