Report Examines High Aspect Ratio Nanoparticles Should Raise Same Concerns as Asbestos Fibres

A UK consortium of scientists, led by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh, has published a key report examining whether high aspect ratio nanoparticles (HARN) should raise the same concerns as asbestos fibres.

A UK consortium of scientists, led by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh (www.iom-world.org), has published a key report examining whether high aspect ratio nanoparticles (HARN) should raise the same concerns as asbestos fibres. HARN includes materials such as carbon nanotubes (CNT) and metal nanowires.

The review, which was published by DEFRA this week, identified many similarities between HARN and asbestos with regard to their physico-chemical properties and toxicological effects concluded that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that HARN which have the same characteristics (diameter, length and biopersitance) as pathogenic fibres, such as asbestos, are likely to have similar pathology.

The consortium laid out a set of prioritised recommendations for future research, spanning the fields of measurement & characterisation, toxicology studies (both in vitro and in vivo), and exposure & risk assessment. These include:

  • Investigation on how best to measure HARN physico-chemical properties in suspension and in biological tissue
  • the need to develop respirable aerosols of HARN to allow further inhalation toxicity studies
  • Development of occupational, consumer and environmental exposure to HARN & consequently an exposure-dose-response model.

"Proper understanding of the potential risks to health and to the environment is a key element in the responsible development and use of any new material or process. This report has clearly identified similarities in the potential toxicity of some types of HARN and asbestos. As with other toxic materials, the risks to health will depend on the extent to which people are exposed. Control of exposure during production and use of these materials is critically important." said Dr Rob Aitken, Director of the SAFENANO initiative and member of the project team.

The consortium behind this influential report is comprised from members of SnIRC - the Safety of Nanoparticles Interdisciplinary Research Centre (www.snirc.org) - including IOM, Edinburgh University & Napier University; with additional input from the National Physical Laboratory, London. In preparation of the report, opinion was also sought from a variety of leading experts across a range of stakeholder groups, from both within the UK and throughout Europe.

CL Tran, SM Hankin, B Ross, RJ Aitken, AD Jones, K Donaldson, V Stone, R Tantra, 2008, ‘An outline scoping study to determine whether high aspect ratio nanoparticles (HARN) should raise the same concerns as do asbestos fibres', Report on DEFRA project CB0406 is free to download. To access it please follow this link: randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=CB0406_7760_FRP.pdf (pdf, 1.67MB).

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