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Nanotechnology – The Next Major Environmental Health Threat?

Posted by John on October 20th, 2008

Technology is a double-edged sword: Nanotechnology will give us the smallest machines imagineable and sheets of paper as strong as steel – but this new technology will also introduce new health threats in the indoor environment.

In the book Implications of Nanotechnology for Environmental Health Research, editors Lynn Goldman and Christine Coussens suggest that we need to explore related health threats before nanoparticles become commonplace in the typical home:

“Today some nanomaterials are already being used commercially. For example, some companies are using TiO2 nanoparticles in sunscreen lotions because they provide transparency to a sunscreen, and are believed to be less toxic than the organic molecules currently used as UV absorbers in many sunscreen formulations. Nanomaterials can also be found in sporting equipment, clothing, and telecommunication infrastructure. The future of nanotechnology is boundless, according to some speakers.”

Nanotechnology revolves around the application of nanoparticles, which are extremely small engineered particles. The problem is that these particles are so small that they can easily get into the human body; they can be inhaled and penetrate lung tissue, for instance.

“Very little is known about engineered nanoparticles and how they interact with cells or human organisms,” point out the editors. “Some current hypotheses suggest that some engineered nanoparticles may be more toxic (inflammatory) than other fine-sized particles of identical chemical composition.”

Indeed, small diesel particles in the nanoparticle size range have been shown to damage not only the lungs but also the heart.

The CDC states: “For most processes and job tasks, the control of airborne exposure to nanoparticles can most likely be accomplished using a wide variety of engineering control techniques similar to those used in reducing exposures to general aerosols.

“Current knowledge indicates that a well-designed exhaust ventilation system with a high- efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter should effectively remove nanoparticles.”

HEPA vacuumsThere you have it: Before nanoparticles start to show up in the dust in your home, be sure to invest in HEPA air filters and a good HEPA vacuum.

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