Could Nanoparticles be the Next Asbestos?

Particles smaller than a grain of sand, too tiny to see with the naked eye, cannot be measured with hundredths or thousandths of a meter — centimeters or millimeters. Instead, these are measured in billionths of a meter — nanometers, from whence their name nanoparticles. Their use is currently widespread, and as scientists discover more uses for them, they will become even more common, but their negative side effects have not yet been thoroughly scrutinized. Unchecked, the use of nanoparticles could spread to such high levels that should it be found at a later time that they pose a health hazard, it will be too late. The use of these minuscule bits is widespread in common products such as beauty treatments for the skin and in sunscreens.

Carbon nanoparticles are also used in products such as tennis racquets, clothes, and car tires. At such a small level, these particles can be inhaled, and when they are, they exhibit similar characteristics in the body to inhaled asbestos. Nano silver particles used to kill odor-causing bacteria in sports clothing is released into the air and water when the clothing is washed. Free of the clothing, the nano silver particles pose more of a hazard than bleach. Dissolved in wash water, nano silver could prove dangerous to the water system. Once a toxin enters the waterways, it is very difficult to clean it up. Thousands of people as well as the environment would be affected by nano silver entering the water system in significant amounts. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in the UK has called for further study of these nanoparticles before they begin to sicken people. Asbestos was similarly once hailed as a miracle material until it was found that asbestos could lead to the development of several forms of cancer. The Royal Commission is not currently seeking to ban these nanoparticles, but it is adopting an attitude of careful watching and waiting.