New approach to risks of nanomaterials

US research scientists have released a new article about assessing the exposure risk of nanomaterial.  Treye Thomas, Tina Bahadori, Nora Savage and Karluss Thomas have published “Moving toward exposure and risk evaluation of nanomaterials: challenges and future directions“.

Pages from Wiley nano 02Refreshingly they take a whole-of-cycle approach to the materials and, even though, the conclusion is that more research is required, that they are approaching the hazard in this fashion is a very positive move.

They say that nanomaterials will only become an acceptable technology if people understand the risks involved with the products.

“The long-term viability of nanomaterials and public acceptance of this new technology will depend on the ability to assess adequately the potential health risks from nanomaterial exposures throughout their lifecycle.”

This openness by manufacturers has not been evident up to now as the commercial application of the technology is early days.

The researchers advocate two elements to further investigation of nanomaterials.

The first is metrology and
developing tools to characterize and measure relevant
attributes of nanomaterials, including particle
size, number, and surface area. The second is lifecycle
analysis of nanomaterials in consumer goods
and their transformation and degradation in products
throughout the lifecycle of materials.

“The first is metrology and developing tools to characterize and measure relevant attributes of nanomaterials, including particle size, number, and surface area.   The second is lifecycle analysis of nanomaterials in consumer goods and their transformation and degradation in products throughout the lifecycle of materials.”

There are several medical articles included on the Wiley Interscience website that may be of relevance but it is heartening to see some interdisciplinary thinking in this field.

Kevin Jones

Nanotechnology safety – literature review

Earlier in June 2009 The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work released a literature review entitled “Workplace exposure to nanoparticles”

Pages from Workplace exposure to nanoparticles[1]The EU-OSHA says

“Nanomaterials possess various new properties and their industrial use creates new opportunities, but they also present new risks and uncertainties. Growing production and use of nanomaterials result in an increasing number of workers and consumers exposed to nanomaterials. This leads to a greater need for information on possible health and environmental effects of nanomaterials.”

The report is available for download by clicking on the image in this post.

Kevin Jones

Fearing the invisible – selling nanotechnology hazards

The community is not getting as concerned about nanotechnology as expected (or perhaps as needed).  There is the occasional scare and the Australian unions have relaunched their campaign on the hazards of nanotechnology manufacturing.  There have been several articles about the potential ecosystem damage of nanotechnology in our waterways.  Frequently, it can be heard that nanotechnology is the new asbestos.

Nanotechnology is a new technology and all new things should be used with caution.  It is odd that none of the nanotechnology protests seem to be gaining much traction.

Part of the problem is that nanotechnology is invisible and how do people become concerned about the invisible?  This is a point of difference from the asbestos comparison.  Asbestos was turned into asbestos products – from dust to roofing.  But nanotechnology goes from invisible to items such as socks.  The public see new improved versions of common items, nanotechnology is used in familiar items, but the public does not see the nanotechnology and therefore does not comprehend nanotechnology as a potential hazard.

It may be useful to jump back before asbestos to look for new communication techniques for warning consumers about the invisible.

In 1998 Nancy Tome published “The Gospel of Germs“.  Tome looks at the slow realisation in the first half of last century by the public that germs and microbes exist and can cause harm.  She is not interested in the germs themselves but how society accepted their existence and how they reacted.  This reaction – improved hygiene, infection control, disinfectant, etc – can provide us with some clues as to how society embraces the invisible, particularly if the invisible can make us sick.

Nancy Tomes wrote the book in the time when AIDS was new.  But since then SARS is new, Swine Flu is new and other pandemics will become new to a generation who have only known good health and good hygiene.  Now we are creating invisible things that we know can have positive benefits but we don’t know the cost of the benefit.

It is perhaps time for the OHS lobbyists to take a page or two from the public health promotion manual (and Tome’s book) and begin to explain rather than warn.  Nanotechnology is not asbestos and the comparison is unhelpful.  The application of nanotechnology will be in far more products than was asbestos and the nanotechnology is smaller.

If the lobbyists can make the invisible visible then progress will be much quicker.

Kevin Jones

Trade unionist talks about nanotechnology risks

In October 2008, SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with Renata Mussolino of the Victorian Trades Hall Council.  At that time the trade union movement was finalising its policies and positions on nanotechnology into the campaign  that is being rolled out at the moment.

In the SafetyAtWork podcast released in April 2009, Renata talks about how nanotechnologies links with mesothelioma but also some parallels with genetically modified organisms.  She discusses the need for more information about the nanomaterials and how one should apply the precautionary principle in this case.

More information about Renata is available at the Victorian Trades Hall Council website

Lawyer speaks on nanotechnology risks

A leading Australian OHS lawyer, Michael Tooma, spoke to ABC Radio on 16 April 2009.

Tooma spoke about the potential risks employers face by dealing with a substance whose hazard rating is unclear. HE says

“Employers at the moment may be unaware of the extent of the potential liability sometime down the track. …We could be facing another epidemic in our industrial history of people, large groups of people, displaying latent symptoms from current exposures that are taking place at the moment. “

The unions have repeatedly made the comparison with asbestos hazards but as  Dr Craig Cormick of the Australian Office of Nanotechnology says, in the same interview, that in the early usage of asbestos evidence of potential harm was available but not shared.

An April 2007 legal update from Tooma on the issue is available

How Workers’ Memorial Day should be treated

For the first time in many years, I will not be able to attend the local service for the Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2009.  I will be attending the Safe Work Australia Awards in Canberra which, coincidentally, is on the same day.  I hope that the award ceremony includes a minute’s silence to remember those who have died at work.

Recently the San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution in support of Workers’ Memorial Day.  It provided several good reasons why trade unionists and, I would say, OHS professionals, should support this day.  Below is part of the resolution

wmd-sf-0000000lyerWhereas, April 28, 2009 is an international day of commemoration for injured workers and workers killed on the job; and

Whereas, the elimination of all doctors at Ca-OSHA has threatened the health and safety protection of California’s 17 million workers; and

Whereas, the introduction of new technology such as biotech and nanotechnology without proper oversight can and has become a threat to workers and our communities; and

Whereas, the deregulation of workers compensation has harmed injured workers and their families in California and throughout the country; and

Whereas, many of these workers have been forced onto SSI, Disability Insurance and other state and local agencies to cover their healthcare costs which is cost-shifting; and

Whereas, senior workers in many industries have been forced into retirement due to their disabilities on the job and discrimination against them due to their disabilities and age including at the US Post Office and other industries; and

Whereas, all working people and their families whether working or injured are entitled to full healthcare,

Therefore be it resolved the San Francisco Labor Council endorses and supports a Workers Memorial Day event on April 28, 2009 in San Francisco at ILWU Local 34 and encourages it’s affiliates to publicize and participate in this California Coalition for Workers Memorial Day (CCWMD) 

It is a lesson for other unions and organisations that such a day does not deal with localised industrial relations disputes and can be a platform for improvement in the quality of life of workers by calling for 

  • increased enforcement and policy resources;
  • caution over emerging hazards;
  • reassessment of deregulation;
  • insurance and healthcare improvements; and
  • appealing early retirements due to illness and injury.

I urge OHS professionals to seek out your local commemorations and participate.  The more people attend, the more government will realise the seriousness of the issue.  More importantly, the services remind us why we entered this profession in the first place and, just maybe, how we have made a difference.

Kevin Jones

Unions step-up OHS concerns over nanotechnology

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has updated its campaign over nanotechnology concerns.  Geoff Fary, Assistant Secretary, said in a media statement 

“With animal tests showing some nanomaterials share the same characteristics and reactions as asbestos fibres, governments and business must not repeat the  painful lessons of the past and allow another tragedy to occur again.

 “Existing laws and regulations were not designed with the unique properties of nanoscale materials in mind. A recent report from the NSW Parliament recommended this be addressed and we believe it should be done nationally too.

 “Until we know more about nano materials, we should regulate as if it is dangerous to human health. It is the only safe option.

 “Workers in manufacturing, retail, health, laboratories, textiles, and outdoor workers are potentially exposed to nanomaterials, and the list will grow as the industry grows.”

These comments are reminiscent of the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution however the Luddites had not experienced pernicious widespread hazards such as asbestos.  The modern society and workplace has benefited from a better understanding of occupational hazards and the union campaign deserves an audience.

The union concerns are outlined in a factsheet available through this link actufactsheet0904-nanotech

Kevin Jones

An interview that SafetyAtWorkBlog conducted with the ACTU OHS Officer, Steve Mullins, is available HERE.  A podcast with an award-winning nanotechnology researcher is available HERE