Nano-fibers used in cosmetics and sports equipment could be as dangerous as asbestos


For decades researchers identified the length of asbestos fibers as a key component in their carcinogenicity and induction of mesothelioma. But because asbestos fibers are natural minerals, their dimensions vary, limiting scientists' ability to study disease risk for a given fiber size and shape. Recently, using man-made silver nano fibers, researchers have released a study that they say confirms the long-held theory that fibers longer than five microns are those most likely to cause disease. Nano fibers are being widely integrated into everyday products from tennis racquets to sunscreen.

While this research has potential implications for asbestos disease and litigation, it also has implications for the nanotechnology industry and products using nanotechnology. The study found that longer fibers tend to be retained by the lungs and cause inflammation, while smaller ones are cleared from the lungs. Nanotechnology-produced fibers longer than five microns could be as dangerous as similar asbestos fibers, the research concludes. This is important in setting regulatory limits in the manufacture and use of nano materials, at least for nano-silver fibers.

One of the authors, Professor Donaldson, was quoted as saying: "We knew that long fibers, compared with shorter fibers, could cause tumors, but until now we did not know the cut-off length at which this happened. Knowing the length beyond which the tiny fibers can cause disease is important in ensuring that safe fibers are made in the future as well as helping to understand the current risk from asbestos and other fibers." The study is titled, "The Threshold Length for Fiber-Induced Acute Pleural Inflammation: Shedding Light on the Early Events in Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma," and was published in Toxicological Science and authored by Schinwald, et al. in May.

Governo Law Firm specializes in risk management and in defending toxic tort and complex product liability claims. This past spring we co-sponsored, designed, and conducted a jury research study on generational differences among today's jurors. Over the past decade, we have seen our jury panels dominated by younger citizens. We believed that the social media revolution and these jurors' generational communication preferences, such as texting and tweeting, would impact their assessment of our clients' themes at trial. Our hypothesis was that jurors from Generations X and Y would respond to arguments and evidence differently than jurors from earlier generations. To test this hypothesis we created a fictional fact pattern based on nanotechnology exposure.

We chose nanotechnology because it is an area that is likely to spawn significant litigation in the future. Companies integrating nano materials into their products are not warning consumers about these ingredients or labeling products to indicate what materials have been used. Our research indicates that modern United States jurors are critical of any lack of notice about a product containing potentially-harmful ingredients, even if the potential harm is speculative. We are in the process of publishing a paper on our findings.

For additional information about nanotechnology, our jury study, or the defense of litigation generally, please contact David Governo at [email protected].