Hazards

The Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA) maintains a Regulatory Monitoring Database of nanotechnology related topics. Regulations and standards are gathered from around the world.

Furthermore, the  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently published recommendations on safety when working with nanomaterials, named “Current Strategies for Engineering Controls in Nanomaterial Production and Downstream Handling Processes”. The IOSH in the UK has also granted funds for nanotech health of market and potential market materials. The Institute of Demolition Engineers and the National Federation of Demolition Contractors is further involved to determine potential methods for demolition and recycling of such products.

||Cell damage

Substantial damage from commercially available Ag and ZnO NPs is found. These NPs produce free radicals (i.e. reactive oxygen species or ROS). In turn, cells can experience cancerous mutations or even death. The threshold concentration is currently found to be 10 micrograms per milliliter. Ag is further found to be significantly toxic when penetrating cells. These findings are in contradiction to the benefits of traditionally using Ag colloid potions for their antiseptic properties. Along the same lines, traditionally beneficial Au used for drug delivery can disrupt the production of progesterone and affect a woman’s fertility.

SiO2 NPs are found to be toxic and have significant adverse effects on macrophages (failure to take up lipids) This leads to atherosclerotic lesion development and its consequent cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke.

Astrocytes help regulate the exchange of signal-carrying neurotransmitters in the brain and supplying their energy. TiO2 NPs are found to cause abo 67% mortality of these cells at 100 ppm.

||Personal protection

Gloves of different thicknesses made of nitrile, latex, neoprene and butyl were exposed to the passage of commercial TiO2 NPs. With the exception of butyl, a higher risk of penetration was seen with colloidal NPs, especially when subject to biaxial dynamic deformation.

||Product end-of-life cycle

Thermal, biological, or mechanical-biological waste treatment plants are not entirely familiar on how waste containing nanomaterials would behave in their facilities. These facilities need to handle all nano waste cycles, including by-products, contamination, and end-of-life. With incineration processes, it is so far believed that CNTs degrade almost completely. Graphene is also suseptible to hydroxyl radicals as a part of an oxidation process (such as TiO2-UV). However, most inorganic oxides are still present in the form of bottom ash, slag, or filter residue. Understanding of nano exposure limits is still being developed and any handling with these products should be exercised with caution. In summary:

  • when incinerated, nanomaterials can be destroyed, remain unchanged, or converted into oxides, chlorides or other
  • nanomaterials >100 nm are efficiently filtered
  • nanomaterials <100 nm are partially retained by filters, possibly up to 80%
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South Africa

||Centre for Green Nanotechnology

Established at the University of the Western Cape as a partnership with a similar centre led by Proffesor Kattesh Katti at the University of Missouri. The Western Cape Centre aims to provide formal training to students at the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral levels in all aspects of green nanotechnology including socioeconomic development and policy development.

United States of America

||American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

ASTM E2864 was published in July of 2013 by the Physical and Chemical Characterization E56.02 Subcommittee. It is titled “Test Method for Measurement of Airborne Metal and Metal Oxide Nanoparticle Surface Area Concentration in Inhalation Exposure Chambers Using Krypton Gas Adsorption”. This development is a crucial step in regulating the health safety of a work environment.

||Challenges

Currently, the U.S. Federal regulations are complicated and rapidly evolving but it is also making characterization of engineered nanomaterials difficult. Considerations involve life cycles, exemptions, and thresholds to uncertainty in data with burden in proof. Coherently, in July 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds investment gaps in nanotech manufacturing that span laboratory production and capabilities to produce prototypes. The result are products that go from proof of concept to privatization with little or no record of testing and development.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are debating the extent to which 1-year-olds and 3-year-olds can chew, salivate, and swallow Ag NP functionalized products (e.g. clothing, blankets, and pillowcases). The original EPA’s risk assessment was based in part on assumptions and did not fully consider the body weight of a 1-year-old, whereby nanosilver concentrations could result in potentially harmful exposures.

||Resources

The ANSI-NSP Nanotechnology Standards Database is aimed to serve as a free resource for standards and other relevant documents related to nano products and processes. The database is under continuous updating to keep up with current technological advancements. Government bodies and standards developing organizations are encouraged to contribute.

Ethics

Ethics is the study of good and bad, right and wrong, and also the evaluation of our morality. In the advent of any new technology, there are usually two sides to the coin. Nuclear power vs. weapons, biological antidotes vs. warfare, resource mining vs. sustainability etc. Nanotechnology is no exception. Actually in the case of nanotech, we are not yet certain of which side of the coin our current research and commercialization efforts are falling on. There are:

  • no long-term toxicity or environmental impact studies;
  • efficiency of manufacturing is rarely questioned;
  • there is no telling what new nanomaterials are capable of until they are generated; and but not limited to
  • considering nanotech as another technological advancement may further demean under-developed countries.

Several groups on nanoethics exist, including The Nanoethics Group, The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), The International Council on Nanotechnology, Latin American Nanotechnology, Society Network (ReLANS) and Focus Nanotechnology Africa Inc. (FONAI). Such groups have limited political and economic power to guide decision making on nanotechnology. Their strategy is to first educate the public through various outreach programs. With public support, such groups can also proceed to establish links and collaboration agreements with academic institutions and governments.

||Opinion

A new Journal of Responsible Innovation was launched to cover a wide range of responsible innovation topics beyond traditional risk and environmental health and safety concerns. These topics include the broader and more subtle issues of the moral, cultural, political, religious, democratic and sustainability implications of innovation and research.

||Perception

A study by Washington and Lee University has indicated that one’s perception of nanotechnology may depend on the region where they live. The study focuses on Germany and the U.S., since they invest the most in nanoscience and technology (NST). In Germany, NST news are broadcast more frequently and report more short-term and realistic expectations. Meanwhile in the U.S., NST news are less frequent and highlight more breathtaking potentials. It is worth noting that for Germany,nanotech publications and awareness has still been reducing from the years 2008-2012.

European Union

A “nanomaterial” is still generally undefined. There is some debate between the EU and international standard authorities as to defining the size range, distribution, constituency, agglomeration, measurements and origins of the nanomaterial. The pending definition is a natural or manufactured material in the size range of 1 to 100 nm with a median 50% constituency assuming a normal or log-normal distribution. However, aggregation and agglomeration are not quantified, nor the specific measurement method defined that could be considered universal for all nanomaterials. The definition is based upon the preliminary work of the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) (see above), the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) seems to be more so affected because of additional factors including nanoscale form, solubility, surface charge, reactivity etc. that can greatly affect our health and environment.

Ongoing efforts are made by the EU to better overcome such nano-health uncertainties. The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) has recently launched the Nano-Platform “Safe handling of Nanomaterials”.  The interactive platform teaches which nanomaterials and nano-products are used in one’s respective trade. NanoDiode (innovative Outreach and Dialogue on responsible Nanotechnologies in EU Civil Society) is another and direct approach to establishing dependable collaborations with the public on health related issues of nano.

||Public concerns

NGOs, such as Health Care Without Harm, are urging the EU to accelerate health effect studies of nanomaterials. They argue that:

  • REACH should extend any definition of nanomaterial beyond the size threshold of 100 nm
  • EU law does not take into account that different forms of a substance are different and have different properties from their bulk counterpart;
  • Six years after REACH registration requirements, only nine substances have been registered as nanomaterials. REACH’s fundamental principle of “no data, no market” should be thoroughly implemented;
  • Up-to-date knowledge must be kept by ECHA to systematically check compliance for all nanoforms, as well as check the compliance of all dossiers; and
  • Provide public communication and decision making ability on market products.

Austria

A progress report on the Austrian Nanotechnology Action Plan of 2 March 2010 was called to order in 2012. It was shown that the country is a high-tech hub with great opportunities, for example, in the development of new materials and surface coatings, cosmetics and medicine. The major milestone was reaching out to interest in the public with a nanotechnology website supported by the Federal Government. Plan reassessment is due in 2015.