Nanoparticles: The New Asbestos?
Did you know...Nanoparticles have already become part of our everyday environment. Whether that is ultimately a good thing is still an open question.
Where do we find nanoparticles?
Nanoparticles are "now being used in the manufacture of scratchproof eyeglasses, crack-resistant paints, anti-graffiti coatings for walls, transparent sunscreens, stain-repellent fabrics, self-cleaning windows and ceramic coatings for solar cells." European Union, Department of Public Health
Consumers are exposed to nanoparticles in many products including dietary supplements, toothpastes, skin creams, cosmetics, sunscreens and even food.
Nanoparticles are so small that they can be used to carry molecules to specific targeted cells in the body--very useful in medical applications. But that very quality also means that they can cross cell membranes, absorb molecules in the body and even reach the blood, heart, or liver.
Inhaled nanoparticles, like tiny asbestos fibers, can be deposited in the lungs and remain there for many years. Depending on how small they are (nanoparticles are between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter--not much to the naked eye, but inside the body, a 1 nanometer particle can go practically anywhere, even into an unborn baby), nanoparticles can travel from the lungs to other organs.
Nanoparticles have not been around long enough for us to have the evidence of health risk that we know of asbestos or the particles in car exhaust. But thousands of deaths each year are attributable to asbestos exposure decades ago, sometimes only once.
As we have found with other substances which have replaced asbestos in common practice, nanoparticles, too, have their dangers. We hope those who work with nanoparticles are taking particular care not to inhale them or bring them home on their clothes, exposing family members. We also hope that the appopriate studies are being done to protect us all from these useful, but potentially dangerous, little creations.