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Nanočástice - nové riziko?

Engineered nanoparticles: understanding and managing potential risks



29. dubna 2009
Nanočástice - nové riziko?

Nanoparticles may be small, but they are at the centre of a huge debate. Nanotechnology has great potential for industry and society, but we need more awareness of the potential impact of manufactured or engineered nanoparticles on human health and the environment to ensure that its products are safe. Although nanotechnology is new, it is expanding quickly and research is needed to understand its associated risks. This thematic issue outlines some of this research and indicates areas for future investigation.

The potential impacts of manufactured nanoparticles on health are of particular concern. The article 'Are carbon nanotubes the 'new asbestos'?' examines the claims that nanotubes cause similar health problems as asbestos. 'The effects of sunscreen nanoparticles on skin DNA' studies the possible damage that zinc oxide nanoparticles - a common component of sunscreens - cause to human skin cells. Still considering DNA, 'Testing the toxicity of nanomaterials' observes the potentially damaging impacts of two commercially available nanomaterials. Whether existing regulations need to be revised to account for the specific effects of nanomaterials is currently under debate.

There are also concerns about the possible effects of nanomaterials on the environment. The article 'Discovering how nanoparticles affect the environment' assesses previous research on the interaction of nanoparticles with fungi, bacteria and algae. It identifies five areas where more knowledge is needed to confirm the degree of risk. Focusing on risk assessment, the article 'Assessing the ecotoxicological risks of nanoparticles' reviews a range of methods for describing and detecting nanoparticles in the environment. It suggests that, although no single method of risk assessment can be used for the diversity of nanoparticles, testing standards should be developed to allow data comparison from different assessments.

All the studies featured here raise the important issue of methodology in assessing risk. 'Predicting the inflammatory potential of nanoparticles' tests a possible method of assessing the inflammatory effect on lungs without the need for animal testing. Its findings also indicate that some metal oxide nanoparticles are unlikely to cause extensive lung disease. 'Inhaled nanoparticles can enter the bloodstream' examines evidence for the theory that nanoparticles can enter the lungs and move into fine blood vessels.

Managing exposure to nanoparticles is a key means of managing risk. Taking a life-cycle perspective, the article 'How nanotubes could be released into the environment' investigates the different points in a product's life when nanotubes may be discharged into the environment. Specifically, it considers rechargeable batteries and synthetic textiles, two mass-produced products that may contain nanotubes in the future. 'Managing exposure to nanoparticles in the workplace' applies a well-known health and safety framework to examine how to minimise risks associated with exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace.

The issues surrounding engineered nanomaterials are recognised as important by the European Commission. The nanotechnology action plan (2005-2009)1 has provided strong support for research in this area. However, more research is needed, especially in the areas of food and exposure assessment. To allow nanotechnology to develop to its full potential, research into the risks of nanotechnology must continue alongside development of nanotechnology itself to inform future policy and maintain European industrial competitiveness.

Prof Kenneth Donaldson
University of Edinburgh, UK

  1. See: ec.europa.eu


ZDROJ: Evropská komise, DG Environment

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