There’s a new wunderkind on science street. Nanotechnology has provided us with a repertoire of some ten thousand commercially available products mostly for home consumer usage; yet very few of us have even heard of this development.

Almost every product from toothpaste to cosmetics and sunscreen now contain nanoparticles. They are also used as whiteners in paint, scratch resistant surfaces on eyeglasses, anti-bacterial agents in clothing fabrics, non-medicinal fillers in vitamin and medicine capsules and nanocoating of fruits and vegetables as preservatives including unsticking the tomato paste from the neck of the ketchup bottle.

At the root of the general public’s lack of awareness of nanotechnology is a near complete lack of regulations in Canada requiring listing of nanoparticle content on package labels.

It’s a science at the atom or molecule level that allows a piggyback process for introducing secondary chemicals on to or in to a product. One nanometer is defined in metric measure as one one billionth of a meter. If one nanoparticle was a pea, the comparative meter would be equivalent to the diameter of the earth. In jurisdictions like the European Common Market where regulation has been initiated, it has been discovered these particles have the ability to upsize to family configurations or downsize to smaller groupings on their own. This characteristic makes it impossible to regulate particle size.

The obvious question is how can anything so small represent any credible risk? The first part of the answer is what’s being piggybacked on the nanoparticle. There are two chemicals increasingly appearing in nano attachments — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — both with a substantial body of evidence that says they are carcinogens and cause other organ damage. As well, the small particle size allows the chemicals to enter skin, be inhaled into lungs, absorbed into digestive tract lining, into brain, even placenta.

The initial red flags about nanotech were raised in Europe with only a few of the safety agencies in Canada expressing concern; but to date Ottawa continues to be Ottawa. Billions of tax dollars world wide are being channeled into developing this technology but downside research is abysmally lacking in spite of warnings from the World Health Organization about the dangers of titanium dioxide.

In 2012, the highly credible Journal of Environmental Science and Technology looked at the nanoparticle and titanium dioxide mixture in candy, frostings, chewing gum and toothpaste but found only a half dozen products mentioning the content on the consumer packaging. Other research on rodents show these nanosize particles produce lung cancer when inhaled and digestive system cancers when ingested. Increased use of these products parallels the skyrocketing incidence of Crohn’s bowel disease and skin disorders especially in children in North America. Just a coincidence? Silver is another nanoparticle used extensively in antibacterial and anti-odour additives to clothing but studies demonstrate up to 50% of these nanoparticles are lost to waste water during the rinse cycle begging the question of their impact when they reach the groundwater ecosystem. Again, no answer forthcoming in Canada.

Proponents of nanotechnology tout the economic savings with these products but fail to factor in the huge tax subsidies in their development and totally ignore the enormous energy footprint in their manufacture. With the known ability of these nanoparticles to enter lung and/or damage exposed skin, we should at least expect guidelines for the safety of workers in the manufacturing sector handling these products. Not in Canada. There are no industry standards in spite of recent research that smaller nanoparticles could inflict similar damage to that of asbestos.

Science should be a tortoise, a plodding meticulous inquisitive creature piloted by safety, not the profit racing industrial hare it has become. The majority of these consumer products are being used by our children and granchildren and pregnant women. They have the right to regulatory due diligence.

By: David Carll MD

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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