In the last two decades, the field of nanotechnology has been rapidly expanding and has been experimented with in various applications, such as consumer products, nanomedicine, medical imaging, tissue engineering, textile fabrics.
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The field is applied in designing, synthesizing, characterizing, and applying materials as well as devices that are functionally organized in one or more dimensions on the nanometer scale between 1 to 100 nm (Chhantyal, 2020).
However, as nanoparticles are manipulated, they are categorized into certain types, sizes, and concentrations, some of which pose a great risk to human health and the environment. These nanoparticles are labeled toxic and require a trained person in the well-ventilated lab when being used. After use, the nanoparticles should be disposed of in a designated place.
The growing concern of potential health and environmental risks associated with nanoparticles has triggered various safety regulations around the world as well as the general concern of awareness among the public and the field experts.
Effect of Toxic Nanoparticles
Due to their small size, nanoparticles can easily surpass biological membranes and harm cells, tissues, and organs. The particles can also get into the body by various routes, such as inhalation, ingestion, or contact through the skin (Asmatulu, 2011).
However, the benefit of nanoparticles should also be well appreciated as many notable examples are seen in the medical field as drug delivery in cancer research (Yao, et al., 2020). Due to their improved advantage of stability and biocompatibility over conventional drugs, nanoparticles are widely being used to precisely target the imperfect cells and release drugs.
The use of engineered nanoparticles as a possible cure for many life-threatening diseases has seen the effect of toxic nanoparticles as, when used intravenously, react with blood and its components, affecting the characteristics of their interactions with tissues and cells (Boraschi, Costantino, & Italiani, 2012).
However, the understanding of the toxicity level of these nanoparticles is still underestimated as the affiliation between the properties of nanoparticles on the human body has not gathered enough clinical data (Yuvaraj, Yuvaraj, Arunkumar, Pandiyan, & Subramanian, 2020).
Even with the current advanced system, their odd shapes and high reactivity make nanoparticles’ effect on the metabolism hard to predict. In practice, they can fail to trigger the body's defensive mechanisms and harm tissues.
Various studies indicate that different nanoparticles cause inflammation (Yazdi, et al., 2010), and result in severe sickness – asthma, bronchitis, lung and liver cancer, Parkinson, Alzheimer, heart disease, and colon cancer (Karakoti, Hench, & Seal , 2006).
Importance of Understanding Nanosafety
As valuable as the field of nanotechnology is, it raises a huge amount of public interest in nanotoxicity.
Professionals engaged with nanoparticles are more concerned about the toxicity of the materials as they handle them during the fabrications, transportation, handling, usage, recycling, and waste disposal (D & Rao, 2011).
Lack of regulation of the use and commercialization of nanomaterials poses a direct threat to public health and the environment (Allan, Belz, Hoeveler, & Hugas, 2021). In many countries, current legislation does not expressively address nanoparticles or nanomaterials in their laws and regulations.
In addition, the nomenclature and classification of nanomaterials as novel substances among the scientific community and governments is disputed, and several definitions do not even include the safety considerations of these materials (Boverhof, Bramante, Butala, Clancy, & Gordon, 2015).
The importance of nanosafety is to communicate accurate information regarding the origins and processes of nanotoxicity in humans and the environment. It means developing precaution measures at the workplace, researching treatment for its medical conditions, improvising safe material-handling techniques in the field. Doing so will promote broader societal acceptance of nanotechnology.
How to Work Safely with Nanoparticles?
The field of nanotechnology has proven applicable to problem-solving in interdisciplinary fields and has greatly impacted our lives with diverse potential benefits.
However, safety from its materials to humans or the environment should not be taken lightly. The continuous exposure of humans to nanoparticles brings significant concern about their potential risks.
First standard operation procedures should be adhered to in every laboratory to eliminate the risks that are associated with nanoparticles (Schulte, et al., 2016). These procedures should be contained in a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that contains relevant contact information, experiment overview, risk assessments, and controls in the lab.
The researchers should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow other relevant rules to bring the risk as low as possible.
Moreover, a chart that stipulates a hierarchy of controls ought to be used to reduce the risks involved when using nanomaterials.
These controls should be placed at the source where the hazard originates from, along the path where the hazard travels to, and on the worker's PPE. Safety can also be maintained using a special flooring sticky mat, door signs, labeling and storage, and through correct disposal.
Continue reading: Why Nanotoxicology Should be the First Step Towards a Nanotechnology Future.
References and Further Reading
Allan, J., Belz, S., Hoeveler, A., & Hugas, M. (2021). Regulatory landscape of nanotechnology and nanoplastics from a global perspective. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Available at: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230021000258
Asmatulu, R. (2011). Toxicity of Nanomaterials and Recent Developments in Lung Disease. In I. Martín-Loeches, Bronchitis. Available at: www.intechopen.com/chapters/17355
Boraschi, D., Costantino, L., & Italiani, P. (2012). Interaction of nanoparticles with immunocompetent cells: nanosafety considerations. Nanomedicine (Lond). Available at: www.futuremedicine.com/doi/10.2217/nnm.11.169
Boverhof, D. R., Bramante, C., Butala, J., Clancy, S., & Gordon, S. C. (2015). Comparative assessment of nanomaterial definitions and safety evaluation considerations. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Available at: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230015001488
Chhantyal, P. (2020). How has Nanotechnology Developed Over Time? [Online] AZoNano. Available at: www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=5610
Karakoti, A., Hench, L., & Seal , S. (2006). The potential toxicity of nanomaterials—The role of surfaces. JOM. Available at: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11837-006-0147-0
Schulte, P., Roth, G., Hodson, L., Murashov, V., Hoover, M., & Zumwalde, R. (2016). Taking stock of the occupational safety and health challenges of nanotechnology. J Nanopart Res. Available at: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27594804/
Yao, Y., Zhou, Y., Liu, L., Xu, Y., Chen, Q., Wang, Y., . . . Shao, A. (2020). Nanoparticle-Based Drug Delivery in Cancer Therapy and Its Role in Overcoming Drug Resistance. Nanobiotechnology. Available at: www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmolb.2020.00193/full
Yazdi, A. S., Guarda, G., Riteau, N., Drexler, S. K., Tardivel, A., Couillin, I., & Tschopp, J. (2010). Nanoparticles activate the NLR pyrin domain containing 3 (Nlrp3) inflammasome and cause pulmonary inflammation through release of IL-1α and IL-1β. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Available at: www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/10/20/1008155107
Yuvaraj, M., Yuvaraj, V., Arunkumar, V., Pandiyan, M., & Subramanian, K. S. (2020). Nanosafety. In M. Ince, Biochemical Toxicology - Heavy Metals and Nanomaterials. Available at: www.intechopen.com/chapters/71950