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Nanotechnology

Nanotech ingredients may expose food industry workers to unknown health risks

Monday, November 13, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: nanotechnology, nanoparticles, food additives


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(NewsTarget) A study recently published by the British Occupational Hygiene Society suggests that workers who manufacture nanotech foods -- foods containing nanoparticles that are expected to behave in a specific manner -- may be exposed to unknown health risks.

According to Andrew Maynard, article author and chief science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, an estimated 2 million workers will produce about $2.6 trillion worth of nanotechnology manufactured foods a year by 2015. He also quoted other research that predicted nanotechnology would be worth $16.4 billion to the food industry by 2010. According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnology's online database, there are more than 300 nanotechnology products already on the market, including foods, food packaging and dietary supplements.

Maynard also complained that, while companies spend upward of $1 billion annually on nanotech research, they only spend about $11 million on safety studies.

"The presence of engineered nanomaterials in the workplace today poses as an immediate challenge to how occupational safety and health is managed," Maynard said. "So far, we have a number of red flags that indicate some engineered nanomaterials might present a new or unusual health hazard."

Studies of rats have found that discrete, nanometer-diameter particles were capable of crossing the animals' blood-brain barrier into the brain itself. Until the effects on humans are known, Maynard suggested nanotechnology businesses initiate "control banding", which would involve creating a nanomaterial "impact index" template to assess appropriate risk control guidelines. The index would measure the risk of individual products based on particle size, shape and activity, as well as the amount of material and dustiness.

"This is still very much at the conceptual stage," said Maynard. "But unconventional problems need unconventional solutions, and these in turn will require a serious investment in relevant nanotechnology risk research."

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