As I mentioned in my last post, understanding the ins and outs of nanotechnology is no simple task. Nanotechnology creates some pretty cool possibilities for the future, like fighting radiation poisoning, creating scratch-resistant automobile paint and applying window coatings that block heat but not light. But nanoparticles may pose health risks to humans so consumers should be on the lookout. And what about the people who work with the particles on a daily basis? As nanotechnology enters multiple industry sectors, more and more workers are at risk.
Studies indicate various health risks exist, but almost nothing has been published about the risks of human exposure to engineered nanoparticles. Scientists simply don’t have enough evidence to justify recommendations for screening workers.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) introduced a proposal called, “Interim Guidance on Medical Screening of Workers Potentially Exposed to Engineered Nanoparticles,” which is a good start, but by no means a complete remedy. With only vague ideas about the harms involved, scientists cannot say who should be screened and what they should be tested for. Besides, research institutes can recommend ways to reduce exposure, but they have no power to enforce the precautions.
Nanomaterials are virtually unregulated, which is the heart of the problem. There are no special regulations for production, handling, labeling, or keeping records on potential hazards. Furthermore, we’re not just dealing with a handful of specific nanoparticles that are easily identified. The world of nanotechnology is extremely complex; even chemicals that are normally harmless may become toxic on such a tiny scale.
At this point, we don’t even know which companies use nanomaterials, especially in the form of powders or sprays that workers could inhale. Medical research centers are finding that nanoparticles may be hugely beneficial for some medical treatments, but they may also be harmful if they enter a worker’s bloodstream by accident.
A connection must be established between exposure and disease but researchers need a method for testing people — it can’t just be random. The NIOSH is looking into creating registries of workers exposed to nanoparticles, but it has yet to clarify who would run the registries, what data would be gathered and how the data would be applied to nanotechnology regulations. Industries have essentially failed to self-report their use of nanomaterials, which suggests that it’s time to implement some mandatory regulations.
Interested in trying to stop the commercialization of nanotechnology until we have a better understanding of the risks involved? Sign the petition and stay tuned to find out how nanomaterials may effect our environment.