A vast and rapidly expanding array of engineered
nano-products floods the consumer market unregulated as evidence of toxicities
accumulate Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
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First cases of nanotoxicity occupational
Seven young women (aged 18–47yrs) working
in a paint factory and exposedto nanoparticles for 5–13months
fell ill and were admitted to hospital. Two subsequently died. Pathological
examinations of the patients' lung tissueshowed nonspecific
inflammation, fibrosisand foreign-body granulomas (tumours
resulting from inflammation) of the pleura (membrane around the lungs). Transmission
electronmicroscopy revealed nanoparticles of polyacrylate lodged in
the cytoplasmand the nucleus of cellsand in the chest
fluid . The polyacrylate nanoparticles were confirmed in the workplace.
These first suspected cases of
nanotoxicity from occupational exposure have heightened concerns over the huge and
rapidly expanding array of nanotechnology products in the market that remains
unregulated despite accumulating evidence that many nano-ingredients, including
those most common in commercial use, are indeed toxic.
Common nano-ingredients are toxic
Nanotechnologies are technologies at the
scale of nanometres (10-9m), where new quantum effects can alter the
chemistry and physics of elements and compounds, offering exciting new
possibilities in industrial applications, and for exactly the same reasons,
posing unprecedented risks to health and the environment.
In 2009, researchers at University of California Los Angeles Jonsson Cancer
Center led by Robert Schiest reported that  titanium dioxide nanoparticles
(TiO2), found in “everything from cosmetics and sunscreens to paint
and vitamins” (see Box), caused DNA damage when fed to mice. They induced breaks
in DNA, damaged chromosomes, and caused inflammation of tissues; “all of which
increase the risk of cancers.”
The mice were exposed to the
nanoparticles in their drinking water, and genetic damage started showing up on
the fifth day , equivalent to occupational exposure in humans of 1.6 years.
Once taken into the body, the TiO2 nanoparticles accumulate in
different organs because the body cannot eliminate them, and they are so small that
they can go everywhere.
These latest findings confirm the
results of numerous other studies indicating that nano-TiO2 increases
cell death, DNA damage, and genome instability in the short-term and the risk
of cancer in the longer term. A team of researchers at several institutes in
Taiwan showed that exposing mammalian cells to TiO2 nanoparticles at
10 ppm in the short-term (days) resulted in enhancement of cell growth and
survival, and increase in reactive oxygen species (oxidative stress). In the
long-term – after 12 weeks - a dramatic increase in transformed (cancerous)
cells was observed, resulting from a disturbance of cell division and genome
instability . Similar toxicities have been found for other nanoparticles
often used with TiO2, such as ZnO2 and SiO2 [10,
more widely used than nano-TiO2, is toxic to beneficial bacteria
that break down wastes and recycle nutrients in the soil . It also killed
half of all zebrafish embryos in laboratory tests at concentrations of 25 to 50
ppm ; whereas a solution of ordinary silver ions (Ag+) was
new form of carbon in the shape of a football (buckyball) discovered in the mid
1980s, rapidly found applications in electronics, electro-optics and much more
besides, including cosmetics. They are being considered for drug delivery and
cancer therapy. Fullerenes caused oxidative brain damage (through lipid
peroxidation) in juvenile largemouth bass after 48 hours of exposure at 0.5 ppm
, mostly likely through the ability of fullerenes to home in on lipid-rich
membrane. One main route to the brain is via the olfactory nerve. Fullerenes were
also highly toxic to zebrafish embryos at 0.2 ppm . Carbon nanotubes, long
thin structures derived from fullerenes and often compared to asbestos, caused
inflammation and granulomas when instilled into the lungs of mice. These
results have now been confirmed in a study in which the mice inhaled aerosols
of multiwall carbon nanotubes. Inflammation and granulomas were found in the
lungs even at the lowest concentration of 0.1 mg/m3 .
Quantum dots are
nanosized semi-conductors that generate electron-hole pairs confined in all
three dimensions (quantum confinement), and hence behave like giant molecules
rather than bulk semiconductors . They have numerous applications in light
emitting diodes, transistors, solar cells etc., and are also being developed
for drug delivery, cancer therapy and cell imaging. Unfortunately, most quantum
dots contain highly toxic metals such as cadmium, which tends to be released
when the quantum dots enter the cells or organisms. This was thought to be the
main reason why CdSe/ZnSe quantum dots at nanomolar (10-9mol)
concentrations were toxic to Daphnia magna, but much less toxic than the
equivalent concentration of cadmium ions . However, CdTe quantum dots
coated with hydrophilic sodium thioglycolate caused disruption in a cultured
monolayer of Caco-2 human intestinal cells and cell-death at 0.1 ppm, which was
thought to be caused by the quantum dots, rather than cadmium . In a third
study, CdSe/ZnS quantum dots injected intravenously into mice caused marked
vascular thrombosis in the lungs at 0.7 to 3.6 nanomol per mouse, especially
when the quantum dots had carboxylate surface groups . Three out of four
mice injected at the higher concentration died immediately. The injected
quantum dots were mainly found in the lungs, liver and blood; and the authors
hypothesized that the quantum dots activated the coagulation cascade through
contact. In fact, many kinds of nanoparticles enhance the formation of
insoluble fibrous protein aggregates (amyloids) , which are associated with
human diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease.
A burgeoning trillion dollar industry
with no safeguards in place
There are now more than 1 000
nanotechnology products on the market (see Box), ranging from microelectronics,
solar cells, medicine, to cosmetics, clothing, food, and agriculture .
products already on the market
inventory currently lists more than 1 000 nanotechnology products on the market
; but this is likely to be an underestimate, as both the number and variety
are growing rapidly, and some companies may be reluctant to disclose
ingredients produced by nanotechnology.
The most numerous products contain nanosilver
particles used as an antibacterial in filters for air conditioners, coating for
refrigerators, food packaging, tableware, kitchenware, mobile phones, baby
toys, pacifiers, cups and mugs, toothpaste, pet products, clothing, bath and
sporting towels, sprays, and food supplement.
Also common are titanium oxide and zinc oxide
nanoparticles used in cosmetics and sunscreens. Titanium oxide and silicon
oxide nanocrystals are combined with organic polymers in anti-dirt,
anti-graffiti coatings [23, 24] on windscreens and other surfaces.
Carbon nanotubes and nanofibres are
incorporated in sports goods such as tennis rackets, racing bicycle frames and
golf club to give strength at reduced weight . They are widely used as
conductive elements in computer microprocessors, flash memory, organic light
emission diodes, and light emission diodes for display screens, giving high
performance at reduced size and power consumption. Carbon nanotubes are in
heavy-duty anti-corrosion coatings for sea-going vessels .
Semi-conducting quantum dots have found applications
in laser diodes, LEDs for a new kind of display screen, as well as solar panels,
The food and cosmetic industry have taken nanotechnology to heart,
in addition to the nanosilver used in packaging and appliances. A new line of
nutritional and skincare supplements called NanoceuticalsTM includes
cocoa nanoclusters to enhance flavour . Nanosized liposomes
are used for more efficient nutrient delivery and other “nanostructured
supplements”; nanosized self-assembled structured liquids (e.g., Canola Active
Oil) are sold as anti-cholesterol. Nanostarch adhesive for McDonald’s
burger containers is saving cost and energy. Nanoclay mixed with
plastic in beer bottles makes them stronger and less permeable to gas. Nanoparticles/nanospheres-encapsulated
vitamins and oils are also on offer.
the farm, fertilizers and pesticides are dispensed with nanoclay particles and
other materials for slow release and increased potency 
The UK government is about to announce a new strategy for
nanotechnologies , predicted by the US National Science Foundation to worth
more than $1 trillion by 2015 .
The European Union’s Scientific Committee on
Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) report in 2006  admitted
that existing toxicological and ecotoxicological
methods may not be sufficient to address the risks of nanoparticles. Exposure to nanoparticles having
characteristics not previously encountered in evolution (and in increasing
concentrations and varieties) may well challenge the normal defence mechanisms
associated with the immune and inflammatory systems. In particular, safety
evaluation of nanoparticles and nanostructures cannot rely on the toxicological
and ecotoxicological profile of the bulk material that has been historically
A report released in 2009 by the
European Commission Joint Research Centre’s Institute for Health and Consumer
 called for “further development of thorough characterisation.”
The US Environment Protection
Agency (EPA) officials are planning to take enforcement action against
companies manufacturing or importing carbon nanotubes that have not submitted
premanufacture notices (PMNs) as required by its Toxic Substance Control Act
(TSCA) . EPA may issue additional test rules for carbon nanotubes.
Otherwise, EPA has been criticised for its “no-data, no risk” approach .
The European guidelines for nanotechnology fall under the
Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical Substances
(REACH), intended to take a “no data, no market” approach, requiring companies
to provide evidence of the safety of their chemicals before they can enter the
marketplace. In practice, however, REACH fails to apply a robust precautionary
principle . As it was designed to regulate chemicals produced in quantities
of one tonne or more, manufacturers and handlers of nanomaterials could simply limit
the scale of their operations to escape regulation. REACH is also weakened by
the exclusions from regulatory purview of some materials that were previously shown
to be safe in larger particle sizes, such as TiO2.
In 2008, the European Commission, removed carbon and graphite from
that at the nano-scale, these materials have not demonstrated themselves to be
risk-free. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has questioned the
adequacy of established toxicological methodologies for testing nanomaterials.
But a high-ranking official at the European Commission’s Health and Consumer
Affairs Directorate General (DG SANCO), Robert Madelin, when asked whether
supermarket foods, possibly containing nanotechnology, were safe for consumers,
he answer emphatically that they were; and scolded consumer groups and
non-government organizations for attacking nanotechnology .
In early 2009, the European Commission adopted a proposal that would
allow the EU to regulate nano-foods under the Novel Foods Regulation. The
European Parliament has endorsed the proposal, further asking the Commission to
include mandatory nanomaterial labels in the list of ingredients. No further
action has yet been taken.
Nano-products have been foisted on unsuspecting consumers
essentially in a regulatory vacuum, while billions of taxpayer’s money are
being spent on research and development. To compound the risks, there is no
standard protocol for the manufacture of any product, let alone standards of
characterisation of the products. Some of these problems are only beginning to
be addressed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development .
The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, two of the UK’s most prestigious scientific societies produced the first report in 2004 
highlighting both the risks and the opportunities of nanotechnologies. However, there has been a distinct lack of progress in addressing
the risks; UK still does not have a dedicated centre for risk research in
Nanoparticles, natural, artificial, old
What’s new about nanoparticles, as far as
risk is concerned, is that many of themare chemically inert as
ordinary ions or as larger particles (and hence never had to go through
regulatory approval before the nanoparticles were used); but as soon as the
particle size reaches nanometre dimensions, they acquire novel physicochemical
properties, causing oxidative stress and breaking DNA, and they can get access
to every part of the body including the brain, via inhalation and the olfactory
review  by Cristina Buzea and colleagues at Queen’s University, Kingston,
Ontario, in Canada, pointed out that human beings have been exposed to natural nanoparticles
since the origin of our species, in the form of viruses, dusts from terrestrial
and extraterrestrial dust storms, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and sea
salt aerosols (which are largely beneficial).
Nanoparticles have been created
by human activities for thousands of years, by burning wood in cooking, and
more recently, chemical manufacturing, welding, ore refining and smelting,
burning of petrol in vehicles and airplane engines, burning sewage sludge, coal
and fuel oil for power generation, all of which are already known to have
health impacts. Automobile exhaust particular pollution is linked to heart and
lung diseases and childhood cancers.
Tobacco smoke is composed of nanoparticles with size ranging from
around 10 nm up to 700 nm, with a peak around 150 nm. It has a very complex
composition with more than 100 000 chemical components and compounds. First or second hand cigarette smoke is associated with an increased
risk of chronic respiratory illness, lung cancer, nasal cancer, and cardiovascular
disease, as well as other malignant tumours, such as pancreatic cancer, and
genetic alterations. Children exposed to cigarette smoke show an increased risk
of sudden infant death syndrome, middle ear disease, lower respiratory tract
illnesses, and exacerbated asthma.
building demolition is an important source of particulate pollution. Older
buildings are likely to contain asbestos, fibres, lead, glass, wood, paper and
other toxic particles
and artificial nanoparticles overlap. For example, C60
fullerenes have been reported in 10 000-year-old ice core samples .
It is important
to distinguish nanoparticles from nano-structured materials that do not
exist as free particles during any part of the manufacturing process,
which therefore are not expected to present the same hazards.
are faced with an unprecedented and ever-growing volume and diversity of
nanoparticles as nanotechnologies take off in all directions.
Diseases associated with nanoparticles
Nanoparticles may be inhaled, ingested or taken
in through contact with the skin. The known possible adverse health impacts are
summarised in Figure 1 , which includes both natural and anthropogenic
nanoparticles. Obviously not all nanoparticles are harmful, but without
exhaustive tests especially in the case of the newly engineered nanoparticles,
it is impossible to tell.
Figure 1 Diseases linked to
nanoparticles from different pathways of exposure 
Diseases associated with inhaled
nanoparticles include asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, and
neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Nanoparticles in the gastrointestinal tract have been linked to Crohn’s disease
and colon cancer. Nanoparticles that enter the circulatory system are implicated
in arteriosclerosis, blood clots, arrhythmia, heart
diseases, and ultimately death from heart disease. Nanoparticles entering other
organs, such as liver, spleen, etc., may lead to diseases of these organs. Some
nanoparticles are associated with autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus,
scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
There is clearly an urgent need not only to
stem but also to reverse the unregulated tide of nanoparticles that are
released onto the market. In view of the existing evidence, the following
actions should be taken.
Engineered nano-ingredients in food, cosmetics
and baby products for which toxicity data already exist (e.g., silver, titanium
oxide, fullerenes, etc.) should be withdrawn immediately
A moratorium should be imposed on the
commercialization of nano-products until they are demonstrated safe
All consumer products containing nanotechnology should
be clearly labelled
The Health and Consumer Protection Directorate
General (SANCO) of the European Commission should require manufacturers of
nano-products to register their products in a database that is publicly
available on the SANCO website 
The voluntary code of conduct for nanotechnology
research that the European Commission adopted in 2008 should become mandatory
: Nanotechnology research activities must be made comprehensible to the
public, performed in a transparent manner, accountable, safe and sustainable,
and not pose a threat to the environment
A robust regulatory programme on nanotechnology
- including characterisation and standardisation of manufacture - should be implemented
as soon as possible
There should be earmarked funding for research
into the hazards of nanotechnology.
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Titanium dioxide nanoparticles induce DNA damage and genetic instability in
vivo in mice. Cancer research 69, 8784-9, 2009.
9. Huang S, chueh PJ, Lin Y-W, Shih T-S, Chuang S-M. Disturbed mitotic
progression and genome segregation are involved in transformation mediated by
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suspension of nanosized silicon dioxide particles to Daphnia magna.
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Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 11th March 2010 06:06:15 Yes Dan,by all means send it on. You are right they know this and need to take the recommendations on board.
Gene Sperling Comment left 19th November 2010 13:01:42 I am a respiratory pharmacist that has been performing home audits for allergists and immunologists in So California for the past two years.
Recently, there has been a proliferation of chronic rhinitis with recurring infections. One common theme in homes and offices is the increased use of odor laden cleaning products heavy with surfactants. I would name Swiffer, Fabreeze, and Any fabric softener.---But the list is becoming endless.
I have suspected this family of chemicals for some time now in deteriorating respiratory health. I have also been troubled of late with the mix (sometimes masked by trade secrets) of pesticides with surfactants AND the introduction of nano-technology. This would appear to create a chemical with one listed concentration but effectively exhibiting affects that are multiples of times more.
Can you direct me to current science articles and research on this topic. I am having difficulty finding any.
When I present my thesis to physicians, they see it as plausible, but want to see research. The EPA is no help at all.
I would appreciate any help that you can give me to research further.
Cheers, Gene Sperling
Don Reid Comment left 11th March 2010 05:05:12 Much of this is already known, seemingly ignored. The reported deaths are very important to acknowledge. Australia is currently preparing draft regulations. May I send this on to the contact person (even though the submissions have closed)?
Diana DEES Comment left 13th January 2011 09:09:13 I am a school teacher with a degree in environmental studies from UCSB. Your research is excellent! Thank you for your efforts to protect the public. I have used Lancome facial products containing nano particles of titanium and other dyes and have developed Morgellons fiber disease on my face. Gene, I have had 4 colds in 4 months and will look into air/heat filters that are nanosilver free. Any suggestion on treating Morgellon or who makes silver free filters?
661 722 8174 email@example.com
Ruth Lyons Comment left 21st February 2011 18:06:13 i am grateful to the author of the above article
for taking such complex material, simplifying it
and showing me where the paths of diseases
associated with nanoparticles can be found.
it is unbelievable a moratorium has not been
Lienke Katz Comment left 8th July 2014 17:05:08 I have a question about the use of colloidal silver used to treat resistant bacterial and viral infections. Are the particles in this presentation "nano size" , or are they larger?
What is the safety record of this medication as it is used regularly by naturopath and other integrative doctors.
I would appreciate it very much if someone can enlighten me.