Nanotech dangers outlined

It has been known for some time that inhaling tiny fibres made by the nanotechnology industry could cause similar health problems to asbestos. This is borne out by new research by the University of Edinburgh published in Toxicology Sciences. Research on mice, suggests the longer nanofibres are even more dangerous. Some of these fibres are similar in shape to asbestos fibres, which cause lung cancers such as mesothelioma. Nanofibres, which can be made from a range of materials including carbon, are about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and can reach the lung cavity when inhaled. The study found that lung cells were not affected by short fibres that were less than five-thousandths of a millimetre long but longer fibres could reach the lung cavity, where they become stuck and cause disease. Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Concern has been expressed that new kinds of nanofibres being made by nanotechnology industries might pose a risk because they have a similar shape to asbestos. We knew that long fibres, compared with shorter fibres, could cause tumours but until now we did not know the cut-off length at which this happened. Knowing the length beyond which the tiny fibres can cause disease is important in ensuring that safe fibres are made in the future as well as helping to understand the current risk from asbestos and other fibres." Hugh Robertson, head of health and safety at the TUC said 'many of these lung cancers can take 25 to 50 years to develop. Nanofibres are already widely used to strengthen a wide range of materials and unless we make sure that we are taking adequate precautions we face a potential time bomb similar to what has happened with asbestos. However this research should not be taken to mean that short fibres are safe. In 2004 the HSE produced guidance that said that employers must take a precautionary approach when using nanomaterials. It is important that steps are taken to ensure that this is happening.'

Source:Schinwald, A.; Murphy, F.; Prina-Mello, A.; Poland, C.; Byrne, F.; Glass, J.; Dickerson, J.; Schultz, D.;  Movia, D.; Jeffree, C.; MacNee, W.; Donaldson, K.. The threshold length for fibre-induced acute pleural inflammation: shedding light on the early events in asbestos-induced mesothelioma. Toxicol. Sci., first published online May 12, 2012

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