New Nanotechnology Study Shows Particle Size Related to Health Impacts

In our defense of product manufacturers over the past decades, we monitor developments in science and medicine and participate in numerous technical organizations. One area we follow is the burgeoning development of commercial nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is widely used in consumer products. Emerging research documents potential health hazards associated with some nanotechnology applications.

We co-sponsored a jury research study that included an analysis of how jurors viewed consumer products that incorporated nanotechnology. We learned that consumers place a high value on knowledge and expect products containing potentially harmful ingredients to bear content labels and, in some instances, actual warnings. We recently authored an article for Claims magazine concerning the widespread use of nanotechnology in foods and consumer products, our research findings and the implications for consumer expectations and potential claims.

One of the technical groups we actively participate in is ASTM International, a highly-regarded organization focused on testing and development of standards, including those to improve "product quality" and to "enhance safety." ASTM International will be holding its 28th annual Johnson Conference on Asbestos from Monday July 21 to Friday July 25, 2014 in Burlington, VT. The Johnson Conference has a "no recording" and "no publications" policy which serves to promote frank and honest scientific discussion. This year's conference is titled "Asbestos, Almost Asbestos, and Asbestos Progeny: New Challenges." The conference agenda is notable for including three presentations on nanotechnology, including:

  • Asbestos Progeny - Nanoparticles;
  • Carbon Nanotubes: The Emerging Threat and The Standard ASTM is Developing to Address It;
  • A Study of the Releasability of Carbon Nanotubes from Composite Materials.

While there are no major epidemiological studies demonstrating human risk from nanotechnology products, a number of animal-based and in vitro studies have established a theoretical risk that some nanofibers may react like asbestos in the body and cause risk of mesothelioma, lung cancer or pulmonary disease. For example, a 2012 article from the Japanese Cancer Association reports on the similarities between multi-walled carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibers: (1) in their shape, (2) in their propensity to cause mesothelial proliferation in rats and (3) in their potential association with the development of mesothelioma. A new study published on May 11, 2014 in Cancer Science indicated that long multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), when respirated by laboratory rats, were able to migrate from the lung alveoli, into the pleura, where they induced fibrosis and "patchy parietal mesothelial proliferation lesions." In addition, the long MWCNTs triggered strong inflammatory reactions. By contrast the shorter MWCNTs did not demonstrate the ability to translocate out of the lungs into the pleura or promote the same level of inflammation. Xu, J. et. al., "Size-and Shape-Dependent Pleural Translocation, Deposition, Fibrogenesis and Mesothelial Proliferation by Multi-walled Carbon Nanotubes," May 11, 2014, Cancer Science. The same size-related difference has been reported in the potential for asbestos fibers to cause mesothelioma.

To learn more about how scientific and medical developments affect the steps manufacturers can take to reduce their 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].