Emerging Evidence Suggests Link Between Nanotechnology and Sick Workers


An article published in the August 14th issue of Forbes magazine proposes that the use of nanoparticles, both in manufacturing and consumer goods, may pose serious health risks to workers. The article cites an incident report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in which a 26-year old chemist developed symptoms of throat irritation, nasal congestion and skin rash after handling nanoparticle nickel powder used in the making of ink fluid. The exposure caused an allergic reaction to the worker's earrings and belt buckle, which both contained nickel. While this case report represents experiences of workers in one laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health, it serves to illustrate that exposure to relatively small amounts of substance (nano-sized nickel particles) may cause subtle changes in the immune system, triggering a sensitivity to nickel in someone who previously did not react to the metal. Fortunately, this worker's physical symptoms of reaction to nickel stopped when she moved to a working environment free of nickel nanoparticles. Also unknown is whether this worker would have had similar sensitivity develop if she was working with particles of nickel larger than the nanoscale.

Nickel is strongly associated with allergic contact dermatitis. Nickel allergy was also implicated in the recent Consumer Product Safety Commission's expedited recall of "Fitbit" physical activity tracking bands, when scores of consumers developed nickel allergies after beginning to wear the tracking bands 24/7. A class-action complaint was filed against Fitbit in March, according to a New York Times article published on August 20, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/technology/personaltech/nickel-allergies-on-rise-as-devices-meet-skin.html. Similar nickel reactions have also been linked to cellular phones.

Despite the current prediction that there will be six million factory workers handling nanoparticles by 2020, regulators have been slow to issue any standard guidelines, and regulatory frameworks exist for only a tiny fraction of the various nanomaterials used in science, medicine and industry. At Governo Law Firm, we believe these new concerns about nickel highlight the potential for future workers' compensation claims and other litigation arising from nanotechnology and new uses of well-known materials. For more information regarding scientific and medical developments, the steps you can take to reduce the risk of claims or the defense of product liability claims, please contact David M. Governo at [email protected] or Sarah E. O'Leary at [email protected].