Today the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported online a "game changing" Harvard based report by Dr. Shane Journeay and Dr Rose Goldman in the field of nanotechnology - toxicology.
The study is the first reported or published case ever in North America of a worker handling nanoparticles in a US manufacturing facility and developing serious health effects!
In reality, while it may sound a little cliche, the report has all the implications and possible long term aspects of an "Erin Brockovich" story.
The $20 billion plus nanotechnology business is currently occupied by small nanoparticle manufacturers and huge Fortune 500 downstream manufacturers. Few people realize there are over 1600 consumer products on the market using nanomaterials. In fact, total sales of nanotechnology are expected to reach $48.9 billion by 2017, after increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7%.
With little industry specific regulation, manufactures and downstream users have been operating like the Wild West....most have been choosing to ignore the potential dangers or are choosing to be unaware of the dangers for the manufacturing workers handing these "ultra tiny" manmade often intrusive particles. Fortunately for nanoworkers worldwide, that will no longer be possible! -- (Note: 100 million nanoparticles could fit on the head of a pin!)
While nanotechnology has some truly amazing properties which will dramatically change many products (see the video), those same amazing game changing properties can be and are deadly to unprotected workers or downstream consumers....
Currently there are thousands of US workers handing nanoparticles.....and by 2020 there will be 6 million worldwide with 2 million located in the US!
Few in the media, work place or government have truly been looking at or are qualified to look at the "toxicology" side of nanotechnology.
Some comments on the study/report:
1. What are the specific health effects of these exposures?
There is a wide range of health effects on workers when exposed to various particles or chemicals. In terms of exposures to nanoparticles, we can, unfortunately, only speculate on health effects because the data is from rats and mice. That is what makes this case is so important, it provides documented confirmation of a human handling nanoparticles in the workplace and developing health effects, specifically allergic sensitization, breathing problems, and rash. The concern among toxicologists is that these particles may cause unknown effects at even tiny doses and therefore lead to longer term health problems like cancer.
2. What are the symptoms of exposure?
People may not know they were exposed at all until something potentially bad develops. Acute exposures can lead to all sorts of symptoms such as congestion, headache, dermatitis, occupational asthma, cough, fatigue, allergic reactions.
3. How are the symptoms diagnosed?
Few doctors in the world are trained in nanotoxicology, in fact, patients have written to me asking where to find clinics that understand nanotechnology. There are some traditional occupational health effects that can be diagnosed by existing methods, however, it is deciphering the exposure that the worker has had to true nanoparticles, that few can assess adequately.
The scientific report can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.22344/abstract